Friday, March 07, 2008

March 6, 2008 Harris County may close Washburn Tunnel to large trucks

Article from the Houston Chronicle. Normal life of a road is 20 years. With heavy trucks might be less unless stronger pavement is used. Something to be said about little old Washburn Tunnel lasting more than 50 years.

Harris County may close Washburn Tunnel to large trucks
Officials discuss proposal at Galena Park meeting

Two or three times a day, debris falls from, or is knocked off, a truck passing through the Washburn Tunnel. Gail Miller, a Harris County assistant deputy commissioner who oversees the tunnel operation, said the debris can be as small as a six-inch strip of chrome or as big as a load of gravel. "We stop traffic at least once a day for something related to a truck," Miller said. She was among a half dozen county staff members at a community meeting Thursday at Galena Park's Alvin Baggett Community Center.

Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said she scheduled the meeting to give area residents an opportunity to comment on a proposal to keep large trucks out of the tunnel. Residents and other interested parties will have another chance to comment March 18, when the proposed restriction is scheduled to be on the Harris County Commissioners Court agenda.

The proposed restriction would bar trucks with three or more axles from entering the tunnel, which was built for smaller vehicles. If approved by the commissioners, the new regulation would take effect April 14. Garcia told the audience of about 25 community residents that the main issues are public safety and preservation of the 58-year-old transportation link. "We didn't expect it to last more than 50 years, but it's done better than we thought, and we'd like to preserve it," Garcia said.

She said her office had received few calls in opposition to the new restrictions. A handful of truck drivers said after the meeting that the new rules will cause them some inconvenience and extra expense. Armando Avina, a 44-year-old trucking company owner-operator, said he drives his five-axle truck through the Washburn Tunnel three or four times a week. With the new rules, he will have to find less direct routes from his home in Pasadena to the north side of the Houston Ship Channel, Avina said.
"Now I will probably (take Texas 225) to 610 because of the toll on the (Beltway 8) bridge," he said.

Miller said county officials realize the new rules will pose an inconvenience for some truckers, but safety factors take precedence. "We're all about safety," she said. "We want to maximize the life of the tunnel and keep it safe for all of you." Showing the truckers a 6-inch cylindrical air brake that came off a truck passing through the tunnel, she said, "Would you want that coming through your wife's windshield?"

Galena Park Police Chief Robert Pruitt said he was concerned that truckerdrivers who discover they can't use the tunnel will now take Clinton Drive "through the heart of Galena Park." "It's not so much the heavy truck traffic as the road maintenance," Pruitt said.

He said the county has done well at maintaining the Galena Park portion of Clinton, but he can't say the same for Houston. The chief urged Garcia to pressure Houston officials to do a better job of maintaining Clinton Drive. Garcia said she and Galena Park Mayor R.P. "Bobby" Barrett had discussed the street with Houston officials. "Some things we just can't get them moving on," she said. "When you have two jurisdictions and federal money, you have to work together."

Barrett recalled being at the tunnel opening as a boy of 12. He and a friend rode their bicycles to the tunnel entrance and ran through it.

Stanley Sloan, another longtime Galena Park resident at Thursday's community meeting also attended the tunnel opener, when he was a sophomore at Galena Park High School. He played bass horn in the school marching band, which played for the opening ceremony. The band marched through the new tunnel, playing as they marched, but Sloan said it was impossible to hear themselves due to the reverberation. Sloan said he now avoids using the tunnel because he doesn't like rushing at 50 mph to stay in front of speeders who scorn the 35 mph limit.

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