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July 08, 2010

The Harris County Flood Control District Begins One of the Largest Phases of Project Brays

One of the largest construction phases to reduce flooding from Brays Bayou began on June 21 when crews started widening the bayou from Holcombe Boulevard to Ardmore Street as part of the Harris County Flood Control District’s “Project Brays.” The 1.7-mile stretch, which will cut through the Texas Medical Center and Hermann Park, will take about a year and a half to complete and cost approximately $10 million.

The $489 million Project Brays is the largest effort of the Flood Control District and includes widening 21 miles of Brays Bayou, excavating four massive detention basins that collectively store several billion gallons of stormwater, and replacing or modifying 32 bridges. 

Not only is this stretch of the project impressive in scope, but it is taking place in parts of town that are both high-profile and sensitive. The Texas Medical Center has been documented as a high-traffic area in Houston not only for vehicles but for cyclists and pedestrians who use the trails along Brays Bayou for commuting and recreation. Hermann Park is one of the largest and most visited public parks in Houston and requires a gentle touch by crews widening the bayou, which bisects the park’s southeast corner. As a result, Flood Control District officials have taken many precautions to reduce impacts to residents, commuters, park patrons and the environment. 

In addition to implementing traffic control plans that will minimize disruption to motorists, the Flood Control District is requiring contractors to widen one side of the bayou at a time to keep hike and bike trails accessible throughout the construction process, said Raouf Farid, program manager for Project Brays. A recent survey conducted by Harris County and the City of Houston suggests that many cyclists use the trails along Brays Bayou to commute to work traveling an average of 7.7 miles each way.

Furthermore, rather than replacing the S.H. 288 Bridge to accommodate a wider channel, engineers were able to design a wider bayou under the bridge using 67,000 square feet of retaining walls – a more practical and less expensive alternative to reconstructing the bridge, Farid said. “We’re still able to achieve the same hydraulic requirements in the bayou but at a lower cost and with far less disruptions to drivers,” he added.
 
When construction crews reach Hermann Park, they will be working within a narrow area to limit the amount of disruption to the 445-acre park. Not only will the bayou be wider through the park, but it will appear more natural when the work is complete, Farid said. Rather than remain in its current trapezoidal shape with steep banks, the newly-widened bayou will have scalloped edges and gentler slopes above the concrete lining, and it will be more visible from North and South MacGregor drives. “Not only will this project improve the capacity of the bayou, it will be an aesthetic enhancement to the park,” Farid said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

To make way for the channel widening project, the Flood Control District worked to carefully uproot approximate 75 quality trees between Holcombe and Ardmore and relocate them to other sections of the bayou and to Hermann Park, which lost many mature pines during Hurricane Ike in 2008. When construction is complete, the District plans to plant 1,400 trees and shrubs along the newly-widened banks. 

To date, the District has completed widening Brays Bayou from the Houston Ship Channel to Lawndale Street, from Lawndale to Old Spanish Trail, from Calhoun Road to Ardmore, from Holcombe to South Braeswood Boulevard, and from Old Westheimer Road to S.H. 6. Later this year the District will bid a stretch from South Braeswood to Bertner Avenue. Four additional channel segments remain.

The District has completed the Arthur Storey (Bellaire Boulevard and Beltway 8) and Old Westheimer (Old Westheimer Road and the Westpark Tollway) stormwater detention basins and is 65 percent complete with the Eldridge basin (Eldridge Road and the Westpark Tollway) and 45 percent complete with the Willow Waterhole (South Post Oak Road and Gasmer Drive) basin.

In addition, the District has completed two of 32 bridge replacements and modifications and is currently working on extending a pedestrian bridge near Cambridge Street as well as the South Braeswood Bridge.

Project Brays is expected to be complete in 2017, funding permitting.