HOUSTON – A wilderness in the center of downtown Houston where people, animals, and busy traffic coexist peacefully as Memorial Park Land Bridge and the prairie are built.
Traffic on Memorial Drive divides the 1,500 acre city park. But the traffic will be diverted through two huge tunnels this year.
“You feel more like going through a full-scale flyover than going through a tunnel,” said Randy Odinet, VP of Capital Projects at Memorial Park Conservancy (MPC).
Traffic will be routed through the tunnels from Memorial Drive in the fall of 2021. (KPRC-TV)
According to Odinet, the construction crews are making progress every day in completing the tunnels and covering them with massive amounts of dirt. These tunnels will shift traffic slightly south and create a land bridge that will allow people and animals to safely get to either side of the park.
“It will be very pleasant for the people, a new convenience for the people,” said Shellye Arnold, president of the Memorial Park Conservancy. “You won’t even know you’re crossing Memorial Drive.”
The tunnels themselves are 27 feet high, 54 feet wide, and can accommodate three lanes of traffic in each set. Arnold says the land above the tunnels gives visitors views of downtown and downtown skylines that were normally only seen in high-rise buildings.
Each tunnel is 27 feet high and 54 feet wide. The longest tunnels are 450 feet long. (KPRC-TV)
Memorial Park revitalization would not have been possible without the 2011 drought that destroyed 50-90% of the canopy in certain areas, according to the MPC.
Instead of replanting to make the park back to what it was, a master plan was developed to completely transform it.
“It won’t look like a golf course,” says Thomas Woltz, whose landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz created the land bridge and prairie concept. When designing the surrounding nature, with the land bridge as the centerpiece, they paid special attention to Houston’s history, people and land.
Rendering of the Memorial Park Land Bridge and Prairie (Memorial park)
“It’s not just a bridge, but an entire ecosystem that is integrated into the park,” said Woltz. “It was what was on the Texas prairies and it tolerated fire, flood, and drought.”
As part of the master plan process, Woltz and his team tried to restore the prairie and savannah of the Gulf Coast, which will act as a “green sponge” and help deal with rainwater.
The tunnels themselves were built to divert water from the pavement and into culverts to prevent flooding, MPC said.
“The land bridge will become an important icon for people inside and out,” said Shellye Arnold, president of the Memorial Park Conservancy.
Although traffic will soon be flowing through the tunnels, the land bridge itself won’t open until 2022.
East Lakeside Terrace on the Eastern Glades (Memorial park)
Right now, visitors can stroll, run, or relax in the completed Eastern Glades of Memorial Park. The trails and lake were opened in the early months of the pandemic, just in time for people to escape the confines of their home.
While many use the trails, other Houston residents volunteer to keep the lush green space looking its best for visitors and pollinators.
The project was funded by a public-private partnership between the City of Houston, the Conservancy, the Children’s Foundation and the Uptown Development Authority.
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