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First Hardy extension road job opens

September 30, 2018

One of three hurdles toll officials must clear to connect the Hardy Toll Road to downtown Houston opened Thursday, remaking a key Northside street.

Traffic started flowing along Collingsworth across a new overpass on Thursday, according to the Harris County Toll Road Authority. Work on the $18.5 million span between Jensen and Elysian began about two years ago, eliminating a major east-west crossing in the community.

Many drivers had to detour for other ways around.

“I am sure they will be happy it is over,” said Jorge Bustamante, project manager for the Greater Northside Management District.

The overpass allows traffic to move above freight railroad tracks but leaves room for toll road officials to build two toll lanes in each direction, mostly along the path of the tracks from Loop 610 to Interstate 10. The work will extend the Hardy Toll Road by 3.6 miles into downtown, with connections to major streets.

Toll users headed downtown typically shift to Loop 610 and then to Interstate 45 or Interstate 69.

Collingsworth, however, is one of three streets that need attention before the tollway work begins. Work started earlier this year on a $22 million underpass at the railroad tracks and Lorraine Street, closing another crucial street for the neighborhood.

Lorraine is set to reopen in mid-2019, just a few weeks or months before the third grade separation along Quitman begins construction.

Neighbors, albeit with a little hassle, are prepared for more work.

“People, I feel, adapt to construction,” Bustamante said. “That is part of life in Houston.”

The overpasses also eliminate rail crossings, which posed an obstacle for cars and pedestrians as they waited for trains to pass, or tried to beat them across the tracks.

“Crossing the railroad tracks is not an easy thing with the industrial traffic and the potholes,” Bustamante said.

The Collingsworth overpass construction includes an 11-acre detention basin near Maury Street and the Houston Belt and Terminal property to handle stormwater effects of the project. Lorraine also includes significant plans for handling rain and keeping the underpass open, including its own pump station.

The overpasses and underpasses and toll road extension are funded by toll revenues.

Once work on Quitman is far enough ahead, building of the toll road extension will start, officials said, tentatively around March 2020. Work on the extension will take about three years.

Extending the Hardy into downtown has been proposed for more than 20 years but has faced numerous delays. Officials finalized plans for the extension in 2011, with construction anticipated soon thereafter. Various other projects diverted attention from the extension, along with lengthy work to realign the freight railroad tracks.

dug.begley@chron.com

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