TIRZ #19 Says It Is Too Late To Go Back To The Drawing Board On Kirby Drive Design

June 3, 2008

Time has run out in Trees For Houston’s effort to once again alter the plans for Kirby Drive construction north of U.S. 59 in an effort to save trees planted by the organization 20 years ago.

The project, funded by Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #19, originally called for a widening of Kirby Drive from 66 feet to almost 80 feet from U.S. 50 to Westheimer Road, due to City of Houston specifications. After meetings with Trees For Houston, The Upper Kirby Management District and the City of Houston, the TIRZ altered the plan to regain 30 percent of the pedestrian area on either side of Kirby. As the plans stand now, Kirby Drive will be 77 feet wide at signalized intersection, 73 feet wide between intersections and 74 feet wide at non-signalized intersections. Twelve-foot raised medians will replace the center turn lane, sometimes known as a “suicide lane”, to control left turns and provide a center point for pedestrians crossing the street.

Trees For Houston indicated last year that those changes would save at least half of the about 135 trees, but realized early this year that they were wrong.

“As it turns out the current plan saves very few if any of the trees,” said Barry Ward, executive director of Trees For Houston. “We are in an 11th hour effort to try and reach a further compromise that would save some of the tree without being much of a financial or time burden for the TIRZ.”

Travis Younkin, director of capital projects for the TIRZ has said time has run out, and the four objectives for the project are best met with the plans already in place.

“We spent $50,000 redesigning the roadway and incurred about a 6-month delay to redesign the project,” said Younkin. “We are too far along in the process.”

Younkin says Trees For Houston presented the TIRZ last week with a new plan that would eliminate the raised median, replacing it with a painted median which would decrease the Kirby’s width to 71 feet.

“The elimination of the median compromises the safety of the street,” said Younkin. “Our priorities as handed down from the mayor are storm drainage, traffic mobility, pedestrian safety and access – and green space was fourth. Going by those priorities from the mayor, that 71-foot roadway does not meet the majority of those priorities. There’s a chance that we would be able to save some trees, but there are no guarantees.”

The TIRZ will hold a pre-bid meeting this week for the $11 million dollar project, with the first phase expected to begin in July. The first phase includes construction on the lateral storm and sewer lines on the side streets that feed into Kirby, along with bringing the water and sanitary sewer line up to standard and able to accommodate the additional residential units and business expected along Kirby. Work will also begin on underground placement of the utility lines along the corridor. Kirby will not be shut down in any area during this phase, which will end in November for a holiday break. At the first of the year, construction will begin on the west side of Kirby for the installation of 72 inch storm sewers. Construction on both sides of Kirby is expected to take from eight to 10 months, with four lanes of traffic open at all times.

The Upper Kirby Management District will contribute about $1.5 million to the project to provide for aesthetic improvements such as brick pavers, trash receptacles, street lights, benches, uniform signal arms and landscaping. The management district has also agreed to maintain the landscaping, which Younkin says will help newly planted trees grow quickly.

Younkin said about 135 trees will be lost due to the project, and about 145 new trees will be planted.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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