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GP/JC CIP MEETING: Progress Report on Ship Channel Bridge

Artists renderings show details of the new Ship Channel Bridge design that will carry Sam Houston Highway 8 over the ship channel. ABOVE: Cable stays support the bridge deck panels, allowing a clear span of 1350’ width, and 185’ height.

NORTH CHANNEL – The GP/JC CIP group (Community-Industry-Partnership) met last Thursday evening by Zoom, to hear industry reports and an progress report from HCTRA (Harris County Toll Road Authority) on the construction of the new replacement bridge that carries Beltway 8 over the ship channel.

The presentation was made by John Tyler, HCTRA Deputy Director for Engineering. Using slides, he detailed the problems the bridge construction has faced, and the status of building the new design.

The original contract for the bridge was let in 2018 to a consortium of Traylor Brothers and Zachry Construction, two contractors with extensive experience in this type of highway bridge. The design engineer was FIGG Engineering. The original contract was for $962 million dollars, for the bridge and connecting roads from Highway 225 to Interstate 10. However, after one of FIGG’s bridges collapsed in Florida, an analysis of this design was ordered, and determined that it was flawed and unstable. Work was halted in August 2019 to allow a redesign.

The new roadway will have 4 lanes in each direction, plus 10’ wide shoulders and a shared-use path for bicycles, pedestrians and other vehicles. Parking lots at either end will facilitate that usage.

A new foundation design was engineered by COWI engineers, and the new plans added $291 million dollars to the cost, including $50 to demolish work already in place. This mainly involved the piers at the base of the pylons, which were redesigned with new reinforcing. Tyler noted that construction of the new bridge is the largest single project in county history. He said that the cost of the bridge will be paid for by tolls, and no tax money or federal subsidy will be used to pay for it. The current toll to cross the existing bridge is $1.50, and Tyler said that HCTRA does not anticipate any increase to pay for the bridge. Currently the toll road authority is financially very strong, with $1.32 billion in uncommitted reserves.

The bridge will be built in two stages, with the southbound lanes now under construction. When complete, it will have four traffic lanes which will temporarily be converted to two-way traffic so that the older bridge next to it can be demolished. This is expected to happen by 2025. After the older bridge is gone, the new northbound lanes will be constructed in its place, and be complete by 2028 Tyler said.

The new Beltway 8 configuration will have flatter grades, only 3 to 4 percent, and smoother curves going into the bridge.

Currently 60,000 vehicles a day cross the bridge, and this is expected to increase to 2 or 3 times the volume.

A website shows live construction: shipchannelbridge.org.