Underground tunnel could be part of flooding solution for Cypress Creek

Cypress Creek spans across the northern part of Harris County.

Cypress Creek spans across the northern part of Harris County.

Flood control officials in Harris County are studying the feasibility of building underground tunnels to carry water throughout the county, which could potentially reduce the strain on creeks and bayous during heavy rainfall.

Brian Gettinger—tunneling services leader with Freese & Nichols Inc., one of the engineering firms to show interest in the study—said he thinks the concept could work on Cypress Creek.

Gettinger pitched the tunnel system to the Cypress Creek Flood Control Coalition at the nonprofit's annual meeting in March. He said if the tunnel becomes a reality, it could cost $2 billion-$3 billion and would take years to build.

"Tunnels are an option of last resort," he said. "You do them because everything else is too expensive, too environmentally challenging to permit, or people don’t let you do it because they don’t want their [property] torn up."

The main goal of a tunnel is to move stormwater through the county faster by increasing the amount of water that can be carried through the system at once, Gettinger said. The tunnel would provide a parallel path to Cypress Creek that would also reduce the amount of water the creek would have to hold during storms.

Where the tunnel would start and end would have to be determined as a part of a routing study, Gettinger said. One possible route he suggested would involve starting around the Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve at Hwy. 249 and Cypresswood Drive, traveling down Hwy. 249 to Beltway 8 and then going along Beltway 8 to Lake Houston. The tunnel could end at Lake Houston or potentially be extended to the Houston Ship Channel, he said.

Putting the route along major highways would reduce the amount of right of way the county would need to purchase, and the preserve would make a good starting point because of its existing capacity to hold stormwater, Gettinger said.

"Part of the design concept is to prevent sediment accumulation," he said. "The reason I indicated we should start this at a detention facility is because those detention facilities have lower sediment load than the side of the channel."

Matt Zeve, deputy executive director with the Harris County Flood Control District, also spoke at the March meeting. He said tunnels can be a viable alternative to widening a creek or bayou, a process that can entail rebuilding bridges, moving utility lines and buying property.

“What an underground tunnel does is … it allows us to avoid all those things," Zeve said. "In fact, if we were to build a tunnel here in Harris County, you wouldn't even know it was going on because it would be 200 feet beneath your feet. You wouldn’t be able to feel it, see it, smell it, hear it.”

The tunnel could be excavated using machines that are capable of mining 2-3 miles per year, Gettinger said. A hypothetical tunnel along the 25-mile route from Hwy. 249 to Lake Houston could be done in segments that could be carried out simultaneously, he said.

"This tunnel could be built in, say, five years of construction," he said. "We’re probably three to five years away from starting construction if everything happens in the best possible way. You have to think about it in a generational-investment mindset."

HCFCD received a $320,000 grant in February to conduct a feasibility study into whether a flood tunnel can be supported by the geology of Harris County. Another $2.5 million has been set aside for two future studies that would determine the cost of building a flood tunnel, the amount of water the tunnels can move, and where the water will be transported to and from, among other details.

Other Harris County waterways Gettinger said he thinks could benefit from a tunnel include Buffalo Bayou and Brays Bayou. With a price tag of roughly $2.5 billion, any flood tunnel would likely depend on federal funding sources, and Zeve said the district is in negotiations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to find that funding.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


MOST RECENT

Eleven days after officials across Harris County's criminal justice system met to discuss how to alleviate overcrowding at the county jail during the coronavirus pandemic, progress has been "excruciatingly slow," according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
Progress 'excruciatingly slow' on effort to address overcrowding at Harris County Jail

"I know it is keeping many of us awake at night, and it should. It absolutely should," said U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, who is presiding over an ongoing lawsuit dealing with the county's felony bail practices.

Commissioners discussed vaccine distribution at a regular court session Jan. 26. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
7 updates on COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Montgomery County

Two more hubs slated, call center in the works and registration process may be nixed: seven updates you do not want to miss.

Montgomery County commissioners unanimously approved the creation of a new court at law Jan. 26. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County commissioners unanimously approve new court at law

The aim of the new court, once established, is to help the county prepare for future growth.

The Texas Department of Transportation is in the process of expanding Loop 494. This is the road near Sorters McClellan Road prior to construction. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
TxDOT's Loop 494 expansion project delayed to third quarter of 2021

The project expands the road from two to four lanes and adds a raised turf median and center turn lanes at intersections and sidewalks.

Texas Medical Center offers coronavirus updates

More than 118,000 people have received their first shot.

Harris County Flood Control District is planning to submit preliminary flood plain maps to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in late 2021. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County's preliminary flood plain maps to be released in late 2021

The new flood insurance rates in Harris County could take effect in 2023 or 2024.

vaccine drive-thru
Houston opens first drive-thru vaccination site

The site aims to distribute 1,000 doses per day for the first week and can scale up if more doses become available.

Home sales increased in five out of seven Lake Houston-area ZIP codes. (Community Impact staff)
See how the Lake Houston-area real estate market fared in December 2020

Home sales increased in five out of seven Lake Houston-area ZIP codes in December 2020 compared to December 2019.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the opening of a COVID-19 vaccine waitlist at a Jan. 25 press conference. (Screenshot courtesy Facebook)
Harris County to open waitlist for COVID-19 vaccines Jan. 26

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned that vaccine supply remains "extremely limited," and it will still take time for those waitlisted to get an appointment.

Montgomery County's two COVID-19 vaccine hubs received allocations of around 2,000 doses each this week. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Montgomery County's 2nd vaccine hub set in The Woodlands; Conroe hub, public health district to get more doses

The Woodlands hospital hub now offers vaccines on an invitation-only basis, and those interested in future vaccination may join the hospital's waitlist.

Preregistration does not guarantee an appointment. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
UPDATED: Montgomery County COVID-19 vaccination preregistration full in 30 minutes; Conroe hub plans Jan. 25 registration

The Montgomery County Public Health District's initial preregistration for COVID-19 vaccinations filled in less than 30 minutes after the program's launch Jan. 25.