The Texas Department of Transportation awarded more than $200 million to general contractor Webber LLC in August 2018 to reconstruct SH 146 near Houston.
A 4.5-mi. section of State Highway 146 between Red Bluff and State Highway 96 is undergoing expansion to accommodate increased traffic volume, said Deidrea George, public information officer of the Texas Department of Transportation, Houston District.
The region has been growing for years, which has added to traffic volume. Rush hour demand now exceeds capacity. The daily traffic count in 2018 was 46,200, with projections reaching 69,500 and 82,900 in 2038 and 2048, respectively.
Tourists have added to the congestion, as have other recreational activities and an expanded shipping industry that has increased employment and population in this and surrounding areas. George said the expressways will allow those who are going through to do so without having to stop in the "tourist" areas.
Another issue to be addressed is roadway design deficiencies.
SH 146 runs directly through Seabrook, Texas, and is a main connection between Galveston and Houston. Currently, SH 146 is a multi-lane, paved highway that consists of four 11- to 12-ft. main lanes (two in each direction). It lacks sidewalks.
In addition to better managing daily traffic congestion and tourist traffic, because SH 146 serves as an official hurricane evacuation route for thousands of people, the need to handle traffic flow along the corridor is imperative.
To achieve that, TxDOT awarded a $201,835,272.64 million contract to general contractor Webber LLC in August 2018. The five-year project is expected to improve mobility and safety, reduce traffic congestion, improve hurricane evacuation and provide travel options while minimizing adverse environmental effects.
- Construction of an express bridge 2.4 mi. long for through traffic, with two northbound lanes and two southbound lanes. One section of the bridge will be split into two separate structures to allow for north- and southbound exit ramps.
- Widening of the existing bridge over the Clear Creek Channel from four to six main lanes, with a protected bikeway on the northbound side. This bridge will remain in place as a frontage road for local traffic. Bridge height (73 ft.) and width (70 ft.) will remain unchanged.
- Construction of 3.7 mi. of new roadway and two new frontage roads (northbound and southbound).
- Construction of grade separations at major intersections.
- Construction of new stormwater drainage systems throughout the project.
- Installation of new traffic signals, lighting, signs and Computerized Traffic Management System improvements.
- Aesthetic improvements such as landscaping, pavers, retaining wall, lighting and decorative bridge medallions.
- Reconstruction of the Clear Creek Channel fenders and installation of new navigational lighting and vertical clearance gauges.
The project was awarded in August 2018, but work didn't start until February 2019 due to a 180-day delay for right-of-way acquisitions and relocation. "We had to relocate 133 utilities and had over 100 impacted properties," George said.
Nearly every business on either side of SH 146 had to close or be relocated. In Seabrook, that amounted to 76 businesses. The city of Seabrook prepared for potential budgetary impacts by setting aside $800,000 to make up for any lost sales tax revenue, according to KHOU 11 News.
TxDOT began acquiring properties in 2016, demolishing them after they were vacated and offering business owners help through their $9.6 million Highway 146 relocation-assistance program.
According to the Daily News, a long-abandoned railroad right-of-way was acquired by the state from the Union Pacific. It runs through largely unpopulated land, but several pipelines were buried alongside the rails. These pipelines once carried petroleum, nitrogen and liquefied petroleum gas, and had to be relocated.
Utility relocation began in late 2018.
The five-year project is divided into phases.
- Phase 1 consists of widening the existing northbound Clear Creek bridge and building a new northbound frontage road in Seabrook. This 18-month project began in February 2019.
- Phase 2 will commence after Phase 1 is completed and will include widening the southbound Clear Creek bridge, building a new southbound frontage road and constructing the majority of the new express bridge. Time allotted is 24 months.
- Phase 3 will reconstruct and elevate the existing SH 146 mainlines and build a new northbound frontage road in Kemah. Work is expected to take 12 months.
- Phase 4 includes finishing the new express bridge and the southbound frontage road in about six months.
Additional work involves signalized intersections, including at two dedicated U-turns. The project also will require that the boat ramps on the Seabrook and Kemah be closed.
"We will also have to periodically close the channels during construction," George said.
Construction crews will conduct intermittent lane closures on the bridge and will reconfigure traffic for two lanes each way during road work.
Crews work two shifts throughout a six-day week.
"We have run into some obstacles which could possibly delay the northbound bridge opening," George said, "but we are also working in other areas of the project ahead of schedule, so it should balance out, but it is still too early to tell."
She indicated that there are no financial incentives or milestones directly in the contract to finish work early.
Approximately 30 construction crews are onsite working on this project. At the moment. Cranes and hammers are being used for pile-driving operations. The equipment is placed on barges for better access.
Solar-powered traffic signals are placed on barges in the Clear Creek Channel to help with marine traffic control of recreational vessels.
"This is a unique approach on this project," George said. "There are over 700 drilled shafts and over 900 piles on the project."
To construct 3.7 mi. of new roadway and frontage roads, as well as a new bridge that is four lanes across and 2.4 mi. long, crews will use 297,981 sq. yds. of new concrete pavement, 1,112,203 sq. ft. of new bridge deck, 159,128 linear ft. of new concrete girders, 101,266 sq. ft. of new MSE walls and 276,620 CY of embankment. CEG