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Interstate 45 North, the North Freeway

Last updated May 28, 2001

Also see: Interstate 45 south | Downtown Houston photos | Historic Houston photos | Construction of stack at BW8

IH-45Interstate 45 north is in the final stages of an expansion and rehabilitation program that began in the early 1980's. The full length from downtown has been widened to a minimum of 8 lanes with a central HOV lane. A study is underway (although temporarily on hold as of May 2001) to determine the next expansion program. Preliminary documents (the HGAC long range plan) show the facility being upgraded to a minimum of 10 through-lanes around downtown, and 14 main lanes plus HOV between IH-610 and BW8. But everything is speculation until the study is concluded, which is probably 2 or 3 years in the future. Any expansion north of IH-610 will require a major right-of-way clearance event. I think that would be a good thing, since IH-45 north is a very unsightly corridor.

Interstate 45 is one of the three main routes to Houston's big airport, Bush Intercontinental, and it continues on to the Woodlands, Houston's most successful suburban development. Traffic flow remains quite good even during rush hour because of the adjacent Hardy Toll Road, which soaks up much of the rush-hour load.

As mentioned above, there is nothing pretty about the IH-45 north corridor in the segment from IH-610 to BW8. It has a very dense concentration of billboards along the route, lower tier commercial establishments, and unending commercial clutter. North of BW8, IH-45 starts to enter the Pine Forest. Unfortunately there has been a lot of clear-cutting, especially by car dealers, but as the roadway approaches the Woodlands, there are still lots of trees along the freeway. With the impressive new Anadarko Tower rising next to the freeway (see photos at the bottom of this page), IH-45 through the Woodlands is becoming a very distinctive stretch of freeway.

Freeway History
1952 IH-45 is included in Houston's first official freeway plan in 1952. Earlier plans showed a short segment of freeway from downtown to IH-610.
Late 1950's Virtually the entire length from downtown to Huntsville was under contruction in the late 1950's. I found numerous archival photographs dated 1959 of construction substantially complete at locations all along this segment.
July 15, 1962 A Houston Chronicle article dated 23-May-1962 reports that the section of IH-45 from downtown to IH-610 was scheduled to open on July 15, 1962.
1962 The interchange at IH-610 is completed.
November 1962 A Houston Chronicle article dated 3-Sept-1961 reports that the section of IH-45 on the west side of downtown was scheduled to open in November 1962.
1963 IH-45 is sustantially or completely open from downtown Houston all the way to Huntsville. The freeway is eight lanes just north of downtown, six lanes from south of IH-610 all the way to FM 1960, and four lanes north of FM 1960.
August 16, 1967 The last section of the Pierce elevated over US 59 is opened, connecting the North Freeway to the Gulf Freeway (IH-45 south)
Late 1970's The Houston Transit Authority operates a contraflow lane on the North Freeway. One lane in the non-peak direction is marked off with pylons, and buses and HOV vehicles are allowed to drive in the peak flow direction on the "wrong" side of the freeway.
Early 1980's Widening and reconstruction of IH-45 begins, beginning downtown and generally working northward. Sections are completed regularly from the mid 1980's through mid 1990's.
1998 The impressive 10-lane freeway with central HOV between BW8 and FM 1960 is completed.
1998 Phase 1 of the stack at BW8 is complete
2000 A major investment study is initiated for the section of IH-45 around downtown and northward to Beltway 8. The study is suspended shortly after its start to allow greater participation by the local transit authority. The resumption of the study is expected by the end of 2001. Long range planning documents list the freeway north of IH-610 as a 14 lane facility plus HOV.
2001 The final section of freeway scheduled for widening to 8 lanes plus HOV, just south of Conroe, is awarded for construction. As of summer 2001, about 10 miles of freeway between FM 1960 and Conroe is under construction.
2002 The stack at BW8 will be completed.
2003-2008? IH-45 will be widened to six lanes through Conroe and all the way to the Walker County Line.

Photos start from the south end near downtown and proceed northward.

IH-45 north Houston IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 169k) Looking south from the Main Street overpass just north of downtown Houston. Photo taken 20-May-2001.

IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 153k) Looking north from the Main Street overpass just north of downtown Houston. Photo taken 20-May-2001.

IH-45 north Houston IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 103k) Looking north, just south of IH-610. Photo taken 20-May-2001.

IH-45 north Houston IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 63k) Looking south, about 2 miles north of IH-610. The HOV lane appears to have been added late in the design or possibly as an afterthought, so there is no interior emergency shoulder on this section of freeway. This section of freeway is on a narrow right-of-way, so the right-of-way is effectively maxed out. Freeway expansion will require a major right-of-way clearance event, but don't expect that to happen until 2010 or later. Photo taken 20-May-2001.

IH-45 north Houston IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 83k) Driver's view looking north, just south of the Beltway 8 interchange. Photo taken 20-May-2001.

IH-45 north Houston
Looking north, just north of Beltway 8. Photo taken summer 2000.

IH-45 north Houston IH-45 north Houston
Looking north at the widest section of IH-45 north between BW8 and FM 1960, which has 10 main lanes, central HOV, and six feeder lanes. This view is near Airtex Drive. Photo taken summer 2000.

IH-45 north Houston IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 98k) Looking south at the HOV "wishbone" connection ramps just south of FM 1960. Photo taken 20-May-2001.

IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 96k) Looking south at the FM 1960 overpass. This is where the freeway transitions from 10 lanes to 8 lanes. Photo taken 20-May-2001.

IH-45 north Houston IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 82k) Looking south at the Hardy Toll road merge point. This shows the original 4-lane freeway, which is in the process of being upgraded to an 8-lane freeway with HOV. The new southbound feeder road can be seen to the right.

IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 63k) Looking north at the Hardy Toll road merge point. There are 10 main lanes, but extra pavement is available to add another main lane in each direction.

IH-45 north Houston IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 122k) Looking north at the intersection with the Woodlands Parkway. The freeway expansion is nearly complete, and includes a direct connector ramp to the Woodlands Parkway. The Anadarko Petroleum headquarters is rising to the left. This is an unusually tall structure for a distant suburb.

IH-45 north Houston
(high resolution 108k) Looking sorth from the Research Forest overpass. The wide span of concrete is nearing completion. The Anadarko Tower rises above the landscape.

 
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