Houston, is that you? City could look much different after I-45 moves

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- TxDOT plans to reroute I-45 off the Pierce Elevated and run it along US-59, east of downtown, leaving the Pierce free of traffic and open for new development.

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Marcus Martinez, of architecture firm Page Southerland Page, envisions turning the old freeway into the Pierce Skypark, a multi-level, mixed-use development. His plans include space for food trucks, bike lanes, greenery, even a hot air balloon - calling it an urban trellis that would seamlessly tie into other yet-to-be-developed buildings and help unify surrounding neighborhoods. It would be a destination with opportunities for social gatherings and public art, similar to offerings at Discovery Green, which was also designed by Page.

"Before, there was a barrier, but now it is actually more of the connector on both sides," Martinez explained.

The Pierce Skypark would be similar to New York's Highline, a greenspace built on a retired elevated rail line. Where there used to be trains, you can now walk though gardens, view art, experience a performance or go for a jog.

"We are doing it in a Texas kind of way. We're dealing with a freeway, which is a little more unusual," Martinez said.

SEE ALSO: Protesters claim environmental and racial issues in I-45 project

TxDOT plans to sell the Pierce Elevated and will no longer use the roadway after traffic has been shifted to the new I-45 alignment. No funding has been secured for the Pierce Skypark or any other plans, but Martinez is hopeful his vision could eventually be a part of the Pierce Elevated's destiny.

"It takes thinking big to get these visions going," Martinez said. "We are one of the largest cities in America. We should be thinking big all the time."

The I-45 project would expand 23 miles of freeway from the North Beltway through downtown and put portions below ground level. TxDOT could break ground as soon as late 2021.

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