Freeway honors considered for El Franco Lee, George Mitchell and others
Two pioneering black lawmakers from Houston, the father of The Woodlands and a Chambers County deputy killed in the line of the duty could be the next names going up along Houston-area freeways.
Wednesday, the Texas House Transportation Committee is scheduled to debate 32 bills related to designating highways or county roads in honor of notable Texans across the state. The declarations typically allow for private fundraising to erect signs.
Houston-area drivers no doubt have their own descriptive names for some of the region’s busiest freeways, but ultimately it is lawmakers who let someone lay claim to stretches of state-maintained roads. Maintenance of the signs, once installed, falls to the Texas Department of Transportation.
Four bills up for discussion Wednesday relate to Houston-area designations.
Barbara Jordan Memorial Parkway
State Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston proposed marking Texas 288 from Loop 610 to Almeda Genoa Road — most of the distance from the loop to Sam Houston Tollway — for Jordan, a leader in the Texas civil rights movement, who died in 1996. Jordan, a Houston native, was the first African American elected to a state senate since Reconstruction. She later was one of the first black southerners elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 20th Century.
El Franco Lee Memorial Highway
State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, filed the bill designating Interstate 69 between Interstate 10 and Loop 610 through Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens after Lee, the longtime Harris County commissioner. Lee, who died in 2016 at age 66, was the county’s first African-American commissioner, a position he held until for more 30 years, rising from the youngest commissioner by two decades, to the county’s senior statesman.
George P. Mitchell Memorial Highway
State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, proposed naming Interstate 45 from Texas 242 to the Harris County line in honor of Mitchell, the oil and real estate titan who developed much of southern Montgomery County. Mitchell, who died in 2013 at age 94, is considered the father of hydraulic fracturing, was the chief architect of the master planned community that became The Woodlands.
Deputy Sheriff Shane Detwiler Memorial Highway
State Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, filed the bill naming the portion of the Grand Parkway in Chambers County for Shane Detwiler, a Chambers County deputy killed in 2009. Detwiler was a former game warden, shot as he responded to a report of a person who fired a gun at a utility worker shutting off water at a residence.
Honorary designations are nothing new for Houston-area freeways, even if few of the names catch on as the common name: U.S. 290 within Harris County is the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway. Interstate 69 south of downtown Houston is named for former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. Texas 288 in Brazoria County is the Nolan Ryan Expressway.
Even portions of the Grand Parkway less than a decade old are getting a new name. Portions of the massive third ring toll road of the Houston region already are marked as the Mayor Bob Lanier Memorial Parkway.
If Toth’s bill passes, it would be the second I-45 designation for Mitchell. The causeway that carries the freeway onto Galveston Island is named for Mitchell and his wife, Cynthia.