• Shepherd Rail Overpass is Key Project in I-69 Progress
Work is now more than 70% complete on a project that is an essential key to extending the safe, controlled access lanes of Interstate 69 deeper into East Texas.
Located on a curve 38 miles north of Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport on US 59 is a Union Pacific Railroad bridge with vertical clearances so low that some trucks have to detour to get around it. The narrow openings between the bridge supports and the compromised sight lines have long made this a location requiring special caution for truckers and other motorists.
The rail bridge has been a bottleneck standing in the way of the freeway lanes marching north from Houston. It is located just south of Shepherd, a town of 2,350 at the edge of the Sam Houston National Forest in San Jacinto County.
Work on the three-year project to bypass the bottleneck began in April 2010. The $34 million project is being built under contract by Williams Brothers Construction. The Texas Department of Transportation is funding the safety and mobility project with Proposition 12 bond proceeds which are backed by the state highway fund.
The project includes major new rail overpass structures on new right of way plus upgrades that will bring another 3.4 miles of US 59 up to interstate highway standard reaching north to the existing overpass at SH 150. There will be new main lanes and northbound and southbound frontage roads. The FM 3460 intersection with the new freeway will also be reconstructed. The project includes a string of high mast light towers.
The existing highway under the railroad tracks will be left in place and will be reconstructed for local traffic access to and from the south side of Shepherd.
A contract for a nearby US 59 upgrade project is expected to be awarded in early 2012. It will begin at the south end of the rail overpass project and extend two miles additional miles south toward Cleveland in Liberty County. The project is projected to cost approximately $14 million.
At the center will be a new interstate standard freeway overpass and ramps at the intersection with FM 2914, the site of an existing major truck stop on the west side of US 59. Trucks must now make at grade crossings and enter traffic lanes from a standing start.
RAIL UNDERPASS SAFETY
The existing rail underpass has a posted vertical clearance of 13’ 6” and has been struck numerous times over the years by high loads despite elaborate warning measures. Advance overhead warning signs and flashers notify drivers of the low clearance and advise them to take an alternate route over an at-grade rail crossing on FM 2914 and then on FM 3460 back to US 59.