I-45 closing complicates weekend traffic outlook

January 22, 2019

Getting into downtown Houston from the south will be a slog this weekend, and complicate some commutes for a few weeks.

Effective 9 p.m. Friday, the ramp from northbound Interstate 45 to Interstate 69 and Texas 288 closes forever. Crews will then demolish it to make way for the new ramp, which is scheduled to open June 28. That leaves weeks of travelers finding their way around, ranging from avoiding downtown altogether via Loop 610, or street-level detours.

“It makes sense to use the loop,” said Bob Eury, president of the Houston Downtown Management District.

Eury and others said the real pain comes Friday through Sunday. For the weekend, the demolition and closing has significant effects, including the closing of northbound I-45 from Cullen to the I-69 interchange and the ramp into downtown via St. Joseph and Pease, starting at 9 p.m. Friday.

The ramp from I-69 southbound to I-45 southbound will also close.

Southbound I-45 traffic is not spared. Crews will close the lanes at Allen Parkway on Saturday morning at 6 a.m.

Officials said all of the lanes and ramps will reopen by 5 a.m. Monday, just in time for the workday commute. That news came as a relief to many drivers on Tuesday.

Scott Shortz, 46, said so long as the lanes are open during the peak commute, he thought drivers would be fine.

“That’s smart,” Shortz said of the weekend closing.

That does leave some activities in a bind, however. That’s one reason officials delayed the closing, which was initially timed for last weekend’s Chevron Houston Marathon. The Houston Rockets have home games scheduled Friday and Sunday.

The good news, officials said, is the closing is a major milestone toward all the work being completed. When the new connections between northbound I-45 and northbound and southbound I-69 open, remaining work will mostly leave freeway lanes unaffected.

“If there is pain over the next five months, which I suppose to expect there will be for some people, there is still gain,” Eury said.

The work is part of a $30.5 million project redesigning the freeway interchange and eliminating the connection from the left side of northbound I-45 to I-69. Because the ramps to I-69 are accessed from the fast lanes of I-45, officials said it creates a dangerous weave as traffic moves from entrance ramps at Scott and the slow lanes to the connector ramp lanes on the left side.

The remade ramps will use Spur 5, the long ramp that funnels traffic into downtown Houston and runs parallel to northbound I-45 on the right side. The change also moves the exit ramps back from the freeway crossing, untying some of the traffic in the area, officials said.

The project has faced obstacles, notably a more than two-year delay after the initial company, Tradeco, that won the job defaulted on all its state projects. TxDOT rebid the project in 2017, with Williams Brothers Construction winning the job, at $2 million more than the previous cost.