Harris County to begin study of routes for potential underground flood tunnel

A study in Harris County into the potential use of underground tunnels to alleviate flooding is moving forward. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
A study in Harris County into the potential use of underground tunnels to alleviate flooding is moving forward. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

A study in Harris County into the potential use of underground tunnels to alleviate flooding is moving forward. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Harris County is entering the second phase of a study into the use of massive underground tunnels to divert storm water during heavy rainfalls.

County commissioners signed off on a $2.5 million contract April 28 with the Missouri-based engineering firm Black & Veatch Corp. to look into the size and effectiveness of a tunnel at various locations in Harris County. Black & Veatch is the same firm the county brought on board to complete the first phase of the study, which involved confirming that local soil could support a tunnel and that a tunnel would be capable of moving enough storm water to make a difference during floods.

Although many details have yet to emerge, the tunnel has the potential to be a game-changer in the county's flood control strategy, said Scott Elmer, director of operations with the Harris County Flood Control District. However, it also has the potential to cost billions of dollars, he said.

"It’s one of those items we are trying to push, but because of the importance and the price tag, it’s an item we have to go into with a lot of good consideration to make sure we are good stewards of the public trust," Elmer said.

To kick off the next phase, Elmer said engineers will identify the top three to five potential locations for the tunnel and will study the alignment, inlet and outlet locations, diameter, length and conveyance capabilities of each.

Buffalo Bayou and Cypress Creek have both been floated as potential locations in the past, but Elmer said researchers are not making any prejudgments. All options are on the table, he said, including a tunnel that ties into multiple watersheds or the determination that no tunnel should be built at all.

"It is possible once we start taking a look at specific routes that no route has a benefit above the traditional methods [of flood control]," he said. "We don’t expect that to be the case, but it’s always a possibility."

Based on early cost estimates, Elmer said it could cost about $1.5 billion to construct 10 miles of a hypothetical 40-to-50-foot diameter tunnel. Part of the second phase involves determining potential funding sources.

A big part of determining whether or not the county should move forward with a tunnel project is cost-effectiveness. If federal dollars are sought for the project, Elmer said the county will have to prove the reduction in damage the tunnel would provide is worth the cost.

"One of the factors is how many homes will be removed from the 1% flood plain," he said. "But there are other things. How long will major roadways be underwater? That’s a component that has a big economic impact. How long will people be out of their homes, not because they are flooded, but just not being able to access them?"

The second phase of the study is expected to kick off May 14 and last for about a year, Elmer said. The third phase, which will involve taking the viable alignments and developing preliminary engineering reports, could begin in 12-18 months, he said.

If the county does come up with some viable routes for a tunnel, Elmer said he believes support for the project exists among county leaders and residents alike.

It will take significant political support and public support for something of this magnitude to be implemented," he said.
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.


The Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce hosted the State of the State luncheon June 10. (Kim Giannetti/Community Impact Newspaper)
State Reps. Harless, Swanson reflect on 87th legislative session bills, events from pandemic to Winter Storm Uri

State Reps. Sam Harless and Valoree Swanson talked ERCOT and criminal justice reform, gun safety, senior living and redistricting at the June 10 Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce's State of the State luncheon.

Taco Bueno sells tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos and more unique items, including the Muchaco, a taco made with a soft pita-like shell. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Taco Bueno coming to Katy and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

The widening project between Fry and Greenhouse roads is estimated to cost $1.87 million. (Screenshot courtesy Google Maps)
West Road widening expected to wrap up in August

The widening project between Fry and Greenhouse roads is estimated to cost $1.87 million.

The Steve Radack Community Center is located on Clay Road. (Courtesy Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam)
Harris County summer program to teach students about leadership, agriculture

Funded through grants, the summer programming will be free to attendees.

Dejan Medanic owns Tuscany Italian Bistro on Grant Road, where his daughter Claudia works as a server. (Andy Yanez/Community Impact Newspaper)
Tuscany Italian Bistro shares passion with Cy-Fair community despite challenges

Throughout the pandemic, Tuscany has adapted by signing up to platforms such as Uber Eats and DoorDash, creating a patio for outdoor seating, and bringing in live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

Several future road projects are planned for Cy-Fair. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
3 future road projects planned in Cy-Fair

Several Cy-Fair road widening, extension and improvement projects are currently underway. Here's a preview of some projects planned for the future.

Economist Elliot Eisenberg spoke about the economic recovery post-pandemic, saying this year's GDP growth will be the best since the 1950s. (Brooke Ontiveros/Community Impact Newspaper)
Economist explains housing demand, price booms in Texas, Greater Houston area

Eisenberg explained why home prices are rising at a June 9 Greater Houston Builders Association luncheon.

Fajita Pete's is known for its fresh-off-the-grill fajita concept. (Courtesy Fajita Pete's)
Fajita Pete's opens new location in Cypress

All fajitas are grilled to order and served with a side of rice and beans.

Officials with the Harris County Justice Administration Department said they identified racial disparities in citations and use of force by law enforcement, among other areas. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County identifies racial disparities in use of force, citations from law enforcement agencies

Analysis in the report included racial demographics in instances of consent search, contraband discovery, traffic stops that led to arrests, types of citations or warnings, and use of force.

Single-family home sales in the Houston area surged 48.2% percent compared to May 2020, when real estate was in the process of recovering from coronavirus-related lockdowns. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Houston-area home sales in May up nearly 50% versus last year

Single-family home sales were up 48.2% compared to a year ago, with 9,702 units sold versus 6,546 a year earlier.

Ashley Eckermann owns and operates Maximize the Mind in Cypress. (Courtesy Maximize the Mind)
Performance coach helps athletes overcome mental blocks at Maximize the Mind in Cypress

Ashley Eckermann helps athletes tackle obstacles such as fear of failure, overthinking and performance anxiety.