Work is moving along on schedule on a transformative 100-acre land bridge project connecting the northern and southern portions of Memorial Park in Houston.
That project is slated for completion in 2022, but officials with the Memorial Park Conservancy, which is overseeing the project, said new lanes of Memorial Drive will open to drivers starting in February.
Eastbound lanes of the new Memorial Drive—which the land bridge passes over—will open to drivers in late February, said Randy Odinet, the conservancy’s vice president of capital projects and facilities. Westbound lanes are slated to open roughly six weeks later, he said.
“That will let us remove the old Memorial Drive alignment within that stretch and finish creating the land bridge mounds over to the north,” Odinet said.
The new Memorial Drive will feature three lanes in each direction once opened.
The bridge, once complete, will create a full land crossing of Memorial Drive, which Odinet said presents an opportunity to connect habitats from the south side of the park to the north side, facilitating drainage and accommodating wildlife movement. The tunnel design includes light wells, which let daylight in at certain intervals.
Odinet pointed to several similar projects as inspiration that drove plans for the Memorial Park Land Bridge, including a bridge at the Phil Hardberger Park in San Antonio and the Gathering Place Land Bridge in Tulsa.
“We learned a lot about both implementation and design considerations of tunnel structures like that—how to think about the park space over the top of them,” he said.
The $70 million project is being funded through a public-private partnership between the conservancy and Houston Public works, though most of the funding comes from philanthropy, officials said. Public works will take on maintenance of the roadway and structure, and the conservancy will handle the rest of the development.
The new land bridge will also allow for improvements of the park’s trail system, Odinet said. Those improvements have already started, with the opening of a new segment of the Seymour Lieberman Trail in late November. Construction will start in January on a project to move the rest of the trail away from Memorial Drive and integrate it more with the land bridge, he said.
“It’s a really nice segment,” Odinet said. “By the time the land bridge is complete, all of the trail that is so close to Memorial Drive now will be moved away. It will be a major safety and user experience upgrade.”