Houston developing plans to make roads safer during flooding

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Inside Houston's plan to protect drivers when roads flood. (KTRK)

Houston's underpasses are notorious for filling with water during rains, and often, trapping drivers. The city wants a better way to warn drivers.

For example, Tony Guerrero goes from his warehouse, to his truck, and then drivers through Ranchester Road as it goes under the Westpark Toll Road every day. He's never liked it.

"That's my main concern when it's raining, because it can flood real, real fast," he said.

In May of 2015, the fast rising flood waters swallowed up Nihad Konsul's truck, and she drowned on Ranchester.

Now, the City of Houston wants to strengthen the warnings along flood prone underpasses. It's applying for a federal grant, which if approved, would funnel several million dollars to City and Harris County officials specifically to tackle the flooded underpass problem.

The City and County have identified around 30 underpasses that consistently flood. Many of those locations, including Shepherd at Memorial, Allen Parkway and Montrose, already have yellow flashing lights. But, the reality is, they don't really work. Drivers don't stop for yellow lights.

"Even though you receive alert on your phone, they don't pay attention and they go through it," says Guerrero.

The city would like to replace them with red flashing lights that go over the roads, and are placed far ahead of an underpass, to encourage drivers to stop.

"We want to treat this more like a traffic signal, we want to put it over the lanes," said Jeff Weatherford, the Assistant Director of Public Works who is spearheading the effort.

If the federal grant comes through, the program would also add natural gas powered pumps to these low lying intersections. Currently, the underpasses either don't have pumps or only have electric pumps. The electric pumps don't work when the power goes out. City officials say replacing with natural gas powered pumps would ensure they continue to work even if the power grid is affected.

"(The goal is) to save as many lives as we can, to enhance it, to learn, and I think this is a step in the right direction," said Mayor Sylvester Turner, who supports the grant application.

"Drivers are oblivious sometimes," said Tom Rodeheaver, a driving instructor who says anything to make drivers pay more attention is good. "I think the change to red lights would help, that's the universal for message for 'Stop.'"

If the grant goes through, the program for these underpasses could be implemented in a few years. If the city of Houston has to fund the program alone, it would take much longer to complete. Click on the link for a map of all the intersections.

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