Preparedness & Recovery

Houston Wins $9.4 Million for Flood Warning on Roads

The award will pay for sensors, cameras and computer components at specific locations, along with warning lights and signs, set for installation this year.

by Dug Begley, Houston Chronicle / March 8, 2018
Flood waters have risen into the Lakes on Eldridge North neighborhood near the Addicks Reservoir West Houston, Texas on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Hurricane Harvey inundated the Houston area with several feet of rain TNS

(TNS) - The city of Houston has secured $9.4 million for the installation of high-water warning systems at 40 flood-prone sections of Houston-area streets to help drivers avoid dangerous flooding.

The award will pay for sensors, cameras and computer components at specific locations, along with warning lights and signs, set for installation this year.

During heavy rains, Houston area underpasses and roads in low-lying areas typically flood, leaving crews scrambling to respond and monitor locations, including barricading some streets.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, announced the federal award this week. It comes from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, which will award $500 million this year to projects chosen from across the country.

The funding had the support of Republican and Democratic members of the Houston congressional delegation.

“Texans have experienced some of the worst flooding in our country’s history, and this is another step in the right direction,” said Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called the award “another significant step in making us more resilient” to major flooding.

The warning systems give drivers a better chance of heeding the high-water situations. Automatic gates in some locations already close roads on command, but during storms some of the warning signs can be tough to see.

The new systems in especially flood-prone spots would include large, red flashing signs on masts — similar to the poles that suspend traffic lights over roads — that will boldly warn drivers of high water.

Other components then relay those closings back to Houston TranStar, a joint project of the city, Harris County, Texas Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Transit Authority. TranStar’s map can warn drivers to avoid the area.

The total cost of the systems is $14.5 million. The city, which applied for the money in a competitive process chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation, will contribute an additional $3.2 million for the project.

TxDOT, which identified nine locations along state-maintained roads where the systems will be installed, will contribute $1.4 million, and Harris County will add $380,000 for warning systems at four locations.

The flood warning systems are part of broader intelligent transportation systems aimed at giving drivers more information, thus driving down some emergency response costs and helping goods move through the area.

“With a booming population and limited space for urban expansion, the existing roadway network needs to become ‘smarter’ to meet the needs of a growing city,” Jackson Lee said in a news release.

Flooded roadways not only affect how people can move around during heavy storms, but recently have been treacherous during epic storms. During the Tax Day Floods in May 2015, a man was killed when he drove into a flooded underpass at Loop 610 and Interstate 69 near The Galleria. Three others were killed in 2016 storms at the same freeway interchange at various underpasses.

Following those deaths, TxDOT installed gates, and assigns crews to close and lock the gates during flooding. The freeway intersection, which crews are rebuilding as part of a massive redesign, is not included in the flood warning project.

This federal TIGER award is the fourth Houston has received since 2012. That year, federal officials gave the city $15 million to improve sidewalks and trails as a way to upgrade routes to transit facilities. In 2013, the Port of Houston received $10 million for improvements to the Bayport wharf.

In 2014, the city again was a winner, receiving $10 million for cameras and message signs to help manage traffic along major streets.

dug.begley@chron.com

twitter.com/DugBegley

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