Green light for delayed freeway;
Construction on southern highway will begin next month
July 10, 1996
The Texas Department of Transportation will start building a
new southern freeway next month that was first put on area
road plans more than three decades ago.
The eight-lane expressway once called the Alvin Freeway will
split from the Gulf Freeway at Calhoun and redefine the
eastern border of the University of Houston.
Eventually, in perhaps 10 years, the road will drop south to
the Sam Houston Tollway/Beltway 8, paralleling Mykawa. As now
planned, it will end on the northern border of Pearland
instead of reaching its original goal of Alvin, or even
After three decades of delays, some area officials were amazed
that work was beginning.
"You've got to be kidding! We haven't been involved in that
road forever," said Paul Grohman, city manager of Pearland,
when told construction of the first 1.3 miles starts in
"We had a lot of our administration who had to be convinced it
was finally real," said Ron Shoup, University of Houston
director of architectural services.
In September 1965, a consultant reported to the state highway
department that the Pearland-Friendswood area "seems to be on
the threshold of a tremendous explosion of new residential
The Gulf Freeway couldn't handle all the traffic without
massive jams, the report said, especially with growth that
might occur because of the new NASA Manned Spacecraft Center
in Clear Lake.
The freeway plans stayed low on the area agenda as other, more
pressing projects were built. In 1974, a bout of inflation
further trimmed area road plans and in 1976 a consultant
recommended the Alvin Freeway be dropped.
By 1982, it was still scheduled for the 1990s, known as the
realignment of Texas 35. In 1985, with plans growing solid,
the Houston City Council agreed that the University of Houston
could close Calhoun to external traffic and use the new
freeway as its eastern border.
Some residents protested that the freeway would take an unused
chunk of MacGregor Park, which is still true.
In 1990, 20 residents attended the last public hearing on the
road. Since then, university officials have lobbied the state
to move on the project, Shoup said. Last month, with no
fanfare, the Texas Transportation Commission awarded a $21.6
million contract to Balfour Beatty Construction to commence
work from the Gulf Freeway south to Old Spanish Trail.
"Highway engineers have been trained to have patience,
patience, patience," said Chris Olavson, director of
transportation planning for the state Transportation
Department's Houston district.
In truth, the first section of the new freeway has already
been built, although few realized it when it went up with Gulf
Freeway reconstruction in the late 1980s. The Transportation
Department calls it the Calhoun Viaduct - the raised freeway
sections on either side of the Gulf Freeway from just south of
U.S. 59 to the Calhoun/UH exit.
Users of the new highway won't have to get on the Gulf Freeway
main lanes to get to downtown Houston because the raised lanes
that parallel the freeway extend directly to Dowling Street, a
few blocks west of the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Construction is expected to take 2 1/2 years and is scheduled to
start next month. The new freeway will connect to the existing
freeway on a new bridge at the northeast edge of the
University of Houston campus by Elgin Street.
The construction contract calls for only a few hundred feet of
main lanes, behind Rother's book store, a Pizza Hut and the UH
College of Optometry.
The contract calls for northbound and southbound frontage
roads to continue farther south along the railroad track,
however, over a new bridge at Brays Bayou and along the
eastern edge of MacGregor Park to Old Spanish Trail.
The right of way for the main lanes would be left as a grassy
field until a later contract.
The University of Houston owns about 35 acres in the wedge
between the new road and Calhoun. Balfour Beatty's contract
calls for it to extend University Boulevard east to the new
road, creating a new ""Entrance 1'' to the campus, as well as
extending Wheeler Street.
The university has no current plans for the wedge of property,
Shoup said, although heavy landscaping along the new road
would be used to create an attractive edge to the campus.
Balfour Beatty's piece of the highway will be complete in
1999, but the next section of the new road won't be awarded
until October 2002, according to current state plans. The
final section, an interchange with Beltway 8, won't be awarded
until September 2004. An interchange with Loop 610 actually
isn't in the plans at all, although it will presumably be
Olavson said road planners take the long view of what can be
accomplished within budget.
Although the state plans no construction south of Beltway 8,
Alvin officials said they still dreamed of the freeway they
were always promised. An effort to build a GAP Freeway
(Galveston-Alvin-Pearland) to a new western bridge onto
Galveston Island dissolved several years ago.
Since it no longer is planned to go to Alvin, state officials
may need a new name for the road once called the Alvin
Freeway. Officially it is Realigned Texas 35, but it will
probably need a different number as long as the current Texas
35 - Telephone Road - has the designation, Olavson said.