Westheimer Streetscape Brings ADA Improvements to the Area | WESTCHASE DISTRICT

If he were alive today, Mitchell Louis Westheimer would not recognize his namesake road. Mr. Westheimer (1831-1905) donated a portion of his land to Harris County to develop a road for farmers in the Alief area to transport their cotton, rice and other farm goods to Houston and beyond.

Today, Westheimer Road is the longest major thoroughfare in Texas and home to METRO’s most-popular bus route. Its eight-lane divided design is being enhanced by a Westchase District project that is completely transforming how the street serves motorists, pedestrians and transit riders.

Stakeholders have early input

“We held a series of public hearings to allow area residents to have input on what would be included in the Westheimer streetscape project,” said Irma Sanchez, Westchase District’s vice president of projects, who oversaw the Westheimer design and engineering process. “We also walked Westheimer between Westerland and Kirkwood to see first-hand the conditions that existed for pedestrians and transit riders. What we found were narrow, deteriorating sidewalks with power poles in the middle and other impediments that made it difficult for pedestrians to safely travel to a transit stop or their destination.”

The design for the project created ADA-enabled hardscapes at each of the major intersections along Westheimer, including curb ramps and ADA-enhanced signals.

“These intersection improvements are possible because more than 50 adjacent property owners provided the easements necessary to build out the ADA improvements, which required extra right-of-way,” said Sanchez.

Transit connections

Stop here: Custom bus shelters offer respite to METRO transit riders as they await the next bus.

Custom transit stops have been installed along Westheimer. They feature LED lighting, special paving, trash cans and upgraded signage, along with seat blocks made of a concrete blend with a glossy finish. All transit stops on Westheimer have been rebuilt with 9-inch curbs, which will speed up boarding times — and minimize traffic delays behind the bus — because buses won’t have to “kneel” at the transit stops.

“Many apartment residents in Westchase District rely on public transportation,” observed Sanchez. “They will appreciate the wider sidewalks, improved lighting and the street trees that will grow to provide a nice canopy for walking to their destination,” said Sanchez.

Following our lead

Westchase District’s work on Westheimer is a preview of coming attractions elsewhere on Westheimer. METRO is planning to add larger bus stops, digital informational signs, 9-inch curbs and much-needed sidewalk improvements along 15 miles of Westheimer, between downtown Houston and George Bush Park. The upcoming METRO project is being funded by $5 million in federal appropriations recently announced by Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher.

Landscaping is next

The Texas Department of Transportation is overseeing construction of the $16-million Westheimer Streetscape project, which is being built by Harper Brothers Construction.

“The sidewalks are almost completely done,” noted Sanchez, who meets regularly with the contractor and TxDot to monitor the project’s progress. “The section on the south side of the street between Rogerdale and the Beltway is the last section of sidewalk to be finished,” she added.

The contractor is working with the City of Houston to activate the traffic signals on the new mast arms so the old span wires can be removed.

Landscaping is next

Westchase District removed the High-Rise Live Oaks that had been planted in the Westheimer medians back in 2005. Those trees were moved to the District’s parks where they’ll have more room to grow. They’ll be replaced primarily by Mexican Sycamore trees, which have thrived along the District’s trails. “We’ve replaced the 20-year-old irrigation system in the medians east of the Beltway, so they’ll be ready for planting soon,” said Sanchez.

Calling it a wrap

Check this: Crews from Harper Brothers Construction and TxDOT work through a punch list of items to be fixed before construction is complete.

This project has been a long time in the making, noted Sanchez. The public input meetings were held in 2015. Construction began in 2020. “It’s been nice to see so many in our community embrace this project by giving us easements or making improvements to their own property that complemented the work we’re doing in the public realm,” said Sanchez. For example, one property owner did not want a transit stop at their location, but Houston Community College welcomed the bus stop, so the plans were revised to locate the bus stop in front of the HCC campus at Hayes Road. HCC modified their landscaping plans in front of the campus to accommodate our wider sidewalks, in addition to providing the requested easements for the improvements,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez acknowledges that some property owners have grown weary of the construction. And she occasionally takes calls from property managers who want to know when the work will be complete. “This is a $16 million project that covers 3.5 miles on both sides of the most heavily traveled street in Houston. It involves new mast arms at 12 intersections, 19 new bus stops, ADA improvements at all intersections and the replanting of 12 medians. It’s a giant project that continued through the pandemic, supply chain gaps and the discovery of surprises out in the field. I believe our property owners on Westheimer, our area apartment residents and even the residents of our surrounding neighborhoods will appreciate the end result when it is done.”