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Houston area to get $320K federal grant for tunnel study

February 23, 2019
In this Aug. 29, 2017 photo, water is released from the Barker Reservoir in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston. The county home to Houston is in line to receive a $320,000 federal grant to evaluate a flood protection strategy that involves building deep underground tunnels to move stormwater to the city’s ship channel. The U.S Economic Development Administration grant would fund a four-month feasibility study to determine whether the tunnels would be a cost-effective option without overburdening the area’s bayous. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)

HOUSTON (AP) — The county home to Houston is in line to receive a $320,000 federal grant to evaluate a flood protection strategy that involves building deep underground tunnels to move stormwater to the city’s ship channel.

The Harris County Flood Control District would use the grant money from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to study whether the tunnels would be a cost-effective option without overburdening the area’s bayous, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The district has already started working on flood-control projects funded through $2.5 billion in bonds that voters approved last summer. The bond money is intended to supplement federal funds for flood mitigation projects after Hurricane Harvey left Texas with $125 billion in damages. None of the projects so far have included underground tunnels, which present unique challenges to the Houston area because of the region’s flatness, soft soils and high water table.

“The study is basically to look at our ground conditions, including our groundwater table, and compare that to existing technology in the tunnel industry to see if there’s a match,” said Russ Poppe, the flood control district’s executive director. “If that’s true, then we can start looking at costs, routes and opportunities we can potentially pursue.”

County officials could approve the study as early as Feb. 26, which would include $80,000 in matching dollars.

District leaders said tunnels could help Harris County achieve protection against 100-year floods, which have a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year.

Jim Blackburn, co-director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center at Rice University, doesn’t oppose the underground tunnels, but he expressed concern that the strategy could siphon money from more urgent proposals.

Constructing the tunnels is estimated to cost between $40 million to $163 million per mile, according to the flood control district. County officials said last year that the total price tag could be several billion dollars.

“It’s one of those big dream projects that may take us away from much more reasonable short-term projects,” Blackburn said. “I doubt the feasibility of it.”

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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