February 17, 2005
Near Northside

Another historic inside-the-Loop neighborhood girds for battle with TxDOT.

Nestled in a small pocket northeast of downtown and surrounded by highways and railroad tracks, Houston's Near Northside has both suffered and benefited from years of relative isolation.

Home to dozens of Victorian-era gabled houses that once housed the European immigrants of the 1880s and 1890s, Near Northside retains its architecture and its blue-collar character.

But Preservation Texas, a statewide historic preservation group based in Austin, says the neighborhood is in trouble. The group announced Wednesday that it has placed Near Northside on its 2005 list of Texas' Most Endangered Places.

The most immediate danger, preservationists say, comes from the state. The Texas Department of Transportation has proposed widening and extending the Elysian Viaduct, a move that residents and preservationists say will further decay a neighborhood that could be a model of preservation and a landscaped gateway into downtown.


TxDOT officials say they think the viaduct is unsafe. It has no shoulders and is restricted to vehicles weighing 12 tons or less, whereas current standards call for bridges that can handle 40-ton truckloads.

Critics of the TxDOT proposal have suggested instead replacing the viaduct with a scenic surface-level boulevard that could be the trigger for redevelopment and historic preservation in the area.

Norm Wigington, a TxDOT spokesman, said the viaduct has to remain elevated because it spans two railroad tracks and Interstate 10.

He said the agency has proposed an alternative plan to detour around a group of houses by building the viaduct farther to the east after it passes the second railroad track near Harrington. He called that plan a "working document."

Gene Goins, the president of Northside BOND (Blocks Organized for Neighborhood Defense) and a 60-year resident of the area, is one of those residents who wants TxDOT to leave the area alone.

"We don't want things crammed down on our throats," he said. "They're trying to pave us over and act like we never existed."

There was a representative from BOND at the Woodland Heights Civic Association meeting with TxDOT; pretty much every north-of-downtown inner-loop civic association was there. I support the concept of extending the Hardy into downtown, especially if doing so weakens the case against expanding I-45, but I cannot support any plan to extend the Hardy that does to Near Northside what a widened I-45 would do to the Woodland Heights. From where I sit, it's better that neither of these projects get done than having either of them go forward and wreak havoc on the neighborhoods.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 17, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack