Houston Chronicle 7:23 am 2/24/16 By Mark Quick

The Texas Department of Transportation is holding a public open house meeting in Bellaire on March 3 to update residents on plans for proposed reconstruction of the U.S. 59 and Loop 610 interchange.

“The proposed roadway improvement project would construct new direct connectors, access ramps, realign Post Oak Boulevard and reconstruct the Loop 610 main lane bridge,” according to a Texas Department of Transportation press release.

The March 3 meeting will take place at the Bellaire City Hall and Civic Center at 7800 South Rice Avenue. It will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. and there will be no formal presentation.

Maps and schematics depicting the project location, design and environmental constraints will be made available.

The TxDOT press release notes that design changes have been made as the result of public comments received on June 4, 2015 at a public hearing in Bellaire.

Those changes include restoring access to Fournace Place and the elimination of double U-turn lanes at Bellaire Boulevard, according to TxDOT.

Talks have been ongoing between city of Bellaire officials and TxDOT. Those talks resulted in design changes as far back as March 2015 which including lowering the height of a proposed direct connector from U.S. 59 north to Loop 610 south.

“TxDOT’s original proposal was to build a two-lane elevated ramp that was 25-to-35 feet high and ran through Bellaire, basically from the interchange location all the way to Fournace Place. It was going to be up to 33 feet high at the Saxon Street area. This was undesirable for Bellaire,” said James Andrews, city engineer.

In addition to its objections about the bridge’s height, the council also had been concerned because the connector, as originally proposed, would have eliminated the current ability to exit at Fournace Place when coming off U.S. 59 north.

Now, however, the connector is designed to come it at grade level following virtually the same vertical alignment as exists today with the present connector.

The project, according to TxDOT, will require securing an additional 2.41 acres of right-of-way and will displace one commercial property.

Based on the progress thus far, Bellaire mayor Andrew Friedberg says public input has made an impact.

He said the upcoming open house provides not only the opportunity to provide further input but to get accurate information about the project directly from the authoritative source.

TxDOT spokesman Danny Perez said the entire project is anticipated to cost $310 million.

It includes constructing new connectors from US 59 to Loop 610 in all directions along with access ramps, realigning Post Oak Boulevard and reconstructing the Loop 610 main lane bridge, as previously mentioned.

The first phase would include building the new direct connectors from US 59 northbound to Loop 610 southbound and then from Loop 610 northbound to US 59 southbound.

He said TxDOT anticipates letting the construction contract some time in 2017.

Residents may submit written comments at the March 3 meeting and may submit written comments until March 17 by emailing hou-piowebmail@txdot.gov. Letters may be sent to TxDOT at P.O. Box 1386, Houston, TX 77251-1386. Questions may be directed to TxDOT’s Pat Henry by calling 713-802-5241.