Figuring out Houston highway names

Rad Sallee's Move It! column yesterday dealt with something that has confounded me: Houston-area highway names:

"Why on earth do you use terms like North Freeway, East Freeway, etc.?" Privette asks. "I've lived here my whole life and still to this day have to stop and think what the heck you are referring to! Why don't you use 59 North 59 South? ... "

"If I can't figure it out it certainly would be confusing to anyone not from this area," said Privette, who lives in Shoreacres. If we took a poll, he predicted, three out of four people would agree with him.

Maybe so, but consider this.

While the official designation might be clearer to newcomers and people passing through, many Houstonians find "Katy Freeway" more easily recognizable than "Interstate 10 West" which at first glance might seem to mean "westbound Interstate 10," maybe somewhere near Baytown. What about "eastbound I-10 West." Doesn't that sound like a contradiction?

Things get more muddled with designations such as "Interstate 610 North," which the Chronicle calls the North Loop. But it would be perfectly reasonable to mistake it for the northbound lanes of either the West Loop or East Loop.

Do you know what the "West Loop North" means? Not the northbound lanes of the West Loop, which certainly would make sense. It actually means that part of Interstate 610 on the west side of Houston and north of Buffalo Bayou, says Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Norm Wigington.

The green overhead freeway signs usually designate highways by number, but city of Houston street signs often use the popular local name, such as Katy Freeway or Gulf Freeway.

The name of the Gulf Freeway, Houston's first, resulted from a contest. Then came the Southwest Freeway, "because we were trying to be the capital of the Southwest," Wigington said.

Muddying the water further: Do you say "I-45 south of downtown" or "the Pierce Elevated?" And what do you call those other segments of freeway that border the downtown area, before they define themselves by taking off toward East Texas, Katy or the Gulf?

Wigington says the dividing point is the crossing of U.S. 59 and I-45 just southeast of the business district. "The North Freeway begins at U.S. 59," he said, "and so does the Gulf Freeway." This means the Pierce Elevated is technically part of the North Freeway, "although nobody calls it that," he said.

Similarly, the Eastex Freeway is that part of U.S. 59 north of I-45, and the Southwest Freeway is the part on the other side.

I give up!

Laurence Simon and Charles Kuffner used to baffle me with their talk of the Pierce Elevated. What is it, I wondered, and why is it so important? Obviously, I finally figured out it was a section of I-45. And have you ever listened to local radio traffic breaks? Phew! "There's a broken-down car blocking the HOV lane on the westbound Katy Freeway at the North Loop. And watch out for an accident on the North Loop eastbound at the 59 Eastex in right hand lane with debris," said so rapid-fire that it's almost impossible to figure out where the heck the traffic slow-down is going to be! Throw in feeder roads and Anne is left saying, "whaaaaaa?"

And Kevin would reply, "Transtar!"

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 11/22/05 09:36 AM | |

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