Local, state, federal infrastructure proposals converging in Houston’s First Ward

Houston City Council approved a $200,000 allocation August 19 for a feasibility study on renovating or relocating the Central Municipal Courts Building on Lubbock Avenue in First Ward. (Courtesy Google Earth)
Houston City Council approved a $200,000 allocation August 19 for a feasibility study on renovating or relocating the Central Municipal Courts Building on Lubbock Avenue in First Ward. (Courtesy Google Earth)

Houston City Council approved a $200,000 allocation August 19 for a feasibility study on renovating or relocating the Central Municipal Courts Building on Lubbock Avenue in First Ward. (Courtesy Google Earth)

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misidentified Paul Benz. The current First Ward Civic Council President is Dori Boone.

An upcoming feasibility study on renovating or relocating the Hurricane Harvey-damaged Central Municipal Courts Building in First Ward is the latest in a series of significant infrastructure proposals in the area.

"It's really an interesting, dynamic place, and we don't know what all the answers are, but I can say that these are going to need to be comprehensive and collaborative efforts," said Council Member Karla Cisneros who represents First Ward as well as parts of the Heights and Northside.

Houston City Council approved a $200,000 allocation for the study Aug. 19, which is required by the federal government in order for the city to use FEMA-designated funds for Hurricane Harvey-related repairs, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Council Member Michael Kubosh, who runs a law office and bail bond service near the courthouse, said the study is long overdue.

“That building has flooded at least four times,” he said.

The study comes alongside parallel efforts in the area including the design phases for both the $7 billion overhaul of I-45 led by the Texas Department of Transportation and the $250 million North Canal Flood mitigation project led by a combination of local, state and federal officials.

Having potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in the areas' infrastructure is met with some caution among area residents, former First Ward Civic Council President Paul Benz said.

"Last year it was almost another full time job going to all the I-45 meetings, and not even the three or four months before that, it was the MetroNEXT meetings," Benz said referring to the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County's successful bond campaign.

As proposed, the I-45 project would eliminate the Pierce Elevated through Midtown and disperse I-45 traffic from First Ward onto ramps into downtown rather than around it.

In one proposal from the Houston Planning Department to TxDOT, officials suggested working with Union Pacific Railroad officials to consolidate portions or railroad tracks to take less space through First Ward. Mayor Sylvester Turner reinforced the idea in his May 12 letter of recommendation to Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan.

Meanwhile, the North Canal Project would reroute White Oak Bayou along downtown creating greater conveyance upstream in the Heights and reduce flooding downtown. A design firm will likely be chosen by the end of 2020, said Laura Patino, the chief of staff for the Mayor’s Office of Recovery, to Houston City Council members in an Aug. 6 briefing.

As each project's design phase moves forward, Benz said he will watch for the opportunities and consequences of each.

"The combination of these could drive people out," he said. "It can take a long time for a neighborhood to recover."

By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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