Harvey's Latest Insult: Gridlock Grips the City

Houston's leaders urge patience as traffic—in addition to flooding—paralyzes the region's roadways.

By Nandi Howard September 7, 2017

"Work on a good day takes 30 minutes, which is remarkable," says Vinod Hopson, a Houston resident who shares one car between him and his wife; the couple both work at FotoFest, Inc. and regularly commute together. "I normally don’t complain about traffic because we live along I-10, and I-10 is the best freeway in town if you get to take the HOV lane."

And yet, on Tuesday, Hopson and his wife found themselves stuck in the sort of traffic not seen since the city evacuated ahead of Hurricane Rita in 2008. Knowing gridlock would be bad the first day that many Houstonians headed back to work after Hurricane Harvey, Hopson thought he made the right move by getting on the HOV lane of Highway 290, as their regular route into town was closed by high waters.

"It was wonderful," he says—at first. "We were zipping past traffic going eastbound on 290 until there way a three-car pile up." And then? "We waited in the single-lane HOV for two-and-a-half hours."

As of today, major thoroughfares in west Houston remained closed due to flooding, as Buffalo Bayou struggles to move over half a million acre feet of water from the strained Addicks and Barker reservoirs into the Ship Channel and, ultimately, out into the Gulf of Mexico. According to Houston TranStar, I-69 southbound at the Brazos River and I-45 northbound at Memorial Drive are closed until further notice, while flooded portions of Highway 6 between Clay and I-10 and Beltway 8 between Kimberley and Memorial could take weeks to fully drain before those roads can be reopened. UPDATE: The northbound portion of Beltway 8 at Westheimer has reopened.

While major highways are closed, commuters taking the back streets and utilizing the HOV lanes are running into other problems. According to Mayor Sylvester Turner, 73 traffic lights were still out as of Wednesday, including five downtown. To ameliorate these issues many tolls around the city like those along Highway 99/Grand Parkway have been waived. Despite this, Transtar reports traffic is flowing 200 percent slower on some Houston highways. 

Turner addressed the heavy traffic in the city Tuesday morning on Twitter, writing:

As the city remains hard at work trying to pump floodwater and fix traffic lights, even Houston Police chief Art Acevedo is doing his part to help while the mayor asks residents for their patience: Acevedo himself was spotted directing traffic this morning at Memorial Drive and Shepherd.

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