Photo: Mark Mulligan, Staff Photographer
What a difference a tollway makes.
After days of disastrous traffic, the Houston area returned mostly to its normal – albeit congested – road patterns for the first day of school in most places. Traffic was heavy, but not the hair-pulling horror show it was shortly after things began returning to normal after Tropical Storm Harvey.
The improvement, however, will come at a price: Tolls will resume on most segments operated by the Harris County Toll Road Authority at 4 a.m. Tuesday.
The easing traffic coincided with the reopening of the Sam Houston Tollway in both directions. The main lanes of the tollway between Westheimer and Interstate 10 were closed when the depressed segment of the freeway became a de facto detention basin for the flooded Buffalo Bayou.
Workers pumped out the water last week, only to find the flooding had buckled the pavement of the southbound lanes. Northbound traffic resumed Thursday evening, while workers scrambled to get the southbound lanes ready.
Favorable weather and additional crews allowed the work to speed ahead, and by Sunday toll road officials announced the lanes were reopening. By the Monday morning commute, traffic was flowing in all lanes in both directions.
Crews, meanwhile, still are working to reopen Beltway 8, which acts as a frontage road to the tollway, southbound at Boheme. The rains and flooding eroded beneath the road, causing a massive sinkhole. Texas Department of Transportation officials said the road will reopen later this week.
Tolls between Interstate 69 and U.S. 290 along the Sam Houston will be waived until further notice, HCTRA officials said, to mitigate the loss of the frontage road. All other HCTRA facilities will begin charging Tuesday morning.
Photo: Mark Mulligan, Mark Mulligan / Houston Chronicle
Destroyed cars sit in a slowly draining intersection near the West Sam Houston Tollway on Thursday.
Destroyed cars sit in a slowly draining intersection near the West…
The resumption could create confusion for drivers, as different entities operate various tollways in the area. HCTRA is the largest operator, with most of the Westpark Tollway, the Sam Houston, the Hardy Toll Road and managed lanes along Interstate 10.
Segments of most toll roads maintained by the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority, began charging Monday. That includes the Fort Bend Parkway from the Sam Houston Tollway to Sienna Parkway and the Grand Parkway from the Westpark Tollway to Interstate 69.
Tolls will resume Wednesday on the Westpark Tollway in Fort Bend County, according to county toll road officials.
The Texas Department of Transportation, meanwhile, has not announced when tolls will return to the Grand Parkway in Harris, Montgomery and Chambers counties.