A $115 million reconstruction project is underway on Shepherd and Durham drives that officials said they believe will reduce crashes and make repairs along the key Heights-area corridor.

Work on Phase 1—from Loop 610 to West 15th Street, has been underway since 2022—while work on Phase 2—from West 15th to I-10—is expected to kick off in late 2024.

The reconstruction is being led by the Memorial Heights Redevelopment Authority, a government corporation that uses locally raised tax revenue for various improvements. The project has multiple goals, MHRA President Sherry Weesner said, including lowering crash rates, and improving pedestrian access, drainage and congestion along a stretch of roadway that hasn’t seen upgrades since the 1950s.

Two-minute impact

The $115 million project spans roughly 5 miles from the northern segment of Loop 610 to I-10 West. It will reduce the number of traffic lanes on each road from four to three while adding protected bike lanes and installing sidewalks, according to MHRA information.

Tree planting is also a major initiative of the project, Weesner said. Trees will create a shade canopy throughout the project’s boundaries and a barrier between pedestrians and cars, she said.

Other elements include new traffic signals, crosswalk striping, new signal timing, and the replacement of underground water and sewer infrastructure. Both phases have been fully funded, including with help from a $40 million federal grant, funds from the MHRA and funds from the city of Houston for water and sewer work, Weesner said.

In March, city of Houston officials requested a temporary pause of all projects that involve narrowing vehicle lanes or adding on-street bike lanes while the new administration of Mayor John Whitmire conducts a review. City officials said it was a standard review for a new administration, and MHRA officials said their timelines have not changed.

Based on crash data from 2012-2018, the project is expected to reduce:
  • Vehicle crashes by 42%
  • Pedestrian crashes by 67%
  • Bicycle crashes by 38%
What they're saying

Kevin Strickland is president of the Greater Heights Super Neighborhood. He also lives several blocks away from where construction will soon be taking place at 14th Street.

Although construction will be tough, he said the benefits are well worth it. The project is already spurring developer interest, and it will improve drainage and mobility, he said.

“It’s impossible to walk across four lanes of speeding traffic,” he said. “It’s not reasonable to walk to a light that might be a quarter-mile away, so people are sort of running across the street. The improvements will address that.”

Some business owners, including Larry Lopez, owner of Upholstery by Coleman on Shepherd, said they think the project will provide a big benefit once completed to a street that has been long overdue for upgrades.

However, Lopez said he wished the MHRA was better at communicating construction updates to businesses. On several occasions, Lopez said he has shown up to work only to have crews warn him they would be cutting off power in 30 minutes. Other times, power was shut off by accident, without warning.

“If it goes off in the middle of us sewing, I’ll probably have to start over and rework that whole piece of material,” he said. “It could cause damage to the machine.”

Lopez also said he was concerned about whether the new bike lane would hamper access to the business’s main entrance from Shepherd, which leads to the shop’s main set of vehicle bays. He emphasized that, although the main parking area is along West 26th Street, the critical front entrance faces Shepherd.

“Change is inevitable. I recognize that. I welcome the change,” he said. “I think that better communication about it and how it impacts some things for business owners would help us all.”

Weesner said the MHRA is carrying out construction in ways that are meant to keep the streets and driveways open for business owners as much as possible. The bike lanes are being designed in a way similar to sidewalks so that they will not block access to businesses, she said.

What's next

As of March, construction crews were focused on continuing work on the southern portion of Phase 1 of the project. Work on Phase 2 will start in late 2024 at White Oak Bayou, and crews will work north toward 15th Street.

Depending on the location and space, the paving will be done in two or three steps, Weesner said. More details will be known after the authority hires a contractor,• she said.••Meanwhile, officials with the Houston Public Works Department said the city’s reviews of road narrowing and bike lane projects are ongoing.

Construction on the remaining phases of Shepherd and Durham will take place according to the following timeline:
  • Construction on Phase 2 will begin in late 2024.
  • Construction on Phase 1 will be finished in fall 2025.
  • Construction on Phase 2 will be finished in late 2027.