Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ghosts of Freeways Past

I will be the first to admit it. I am a "road geek", someone who is fascinated by roads, highways, freeways. All the ins and outs, trivia, history, and design of highways are something I can very easily get caught up in. As a kid, I drew maps of cities I invented in my mind. Today, I play Sim City 4 on the computer. And while most people would rather fly than drive, I still have enjoyment by getting in the car and heading out on the open road.

One thing I have come across in my road geekiness is the phenomena of stub ramps, or "ghost ramps". These are ramps on or off of a freeway that seemingly have no reason to be there. Sometimes they were built as part of a future expansion that never happened. Others are the remains of an interchange that no longer exists.

I got thinking about these again today, as I was driving through the interchange from eastbound US 36 (Boulder-Denver Turnpike) onto southbound I-25 (North Valley Highway) in Denver. Off to the right, I was surprised to see a very wide entrance ramp coming up to the interchange ramp, but it had no beginning. The merge of this ramp to the main one was blocked by barricades. It apparently was supposed to be a ramp from North Broadway onto I-25, but was never connected. Below is an arial photo of this ghost ramp:

Ghost ramp merging into ramp from US 36 to I-25

That got me thinking about another Denver area ghost ramp, this one on the north side of the town of Castle Rock. There used to be an interchange where Black Feather Trail now crosses the I-25 freeway, a route where motorists once exited from I-25 North to US 85 North toward Littleton; and southbound US 85 traffic merged onto southbound I-25. About three years ago, the interchange was removed and a new bridge built over the freeway at that spot. I-85 traffic now must take the next exit at Founders Parkway / Meadows Parkway. When the old interchange was torn down, the ghost of the southbound merge lane was left, a forgotten reminder of an interchange that is gone.

Ghost ramp from old US 85 South to I-25 South. Dirt trail of old road can still be seen.

But the title of Granddaddy of All Ghost Ramps has a contender in my hometown of Houston. That city has a very interesting layout of freeways. Before getting to the big ghost ramp there, a little visualization of the freeway system of the Bayou City is in order. Main routes radiate from downtown, with a series of loop freeways surrounding the city. Think of a spoked wheel and you will get the idea. The center hub is a little loop around downtown formed by I-45, US 59, and I-10. The next major loop is the Interstate 610 loop, circling the city's center about 6 miles out. Then another 6 miles out is the Sam Houston Tollway / Beltway 8. Further still is a partial, non-freeway loop on the north and west side formed by FM 1960 and Texas 6 (FM roads are a Texas anomaly, meaning "Farm to Market" Road). Now, another partial loop has been started as Texas 99, also known as the Grand Parkway, which currently is partially built from about Sugar Land to Katy.

So anyway, the 610 Loop crosses two freeways that don't go downtown. One is the Northwest Freeway (US 290), and the other being Texas 225, the La Porte Freeway. This is the freeway that parallels the Houston Ship Channel on the south side of it, and passes by the industrial and refining operations in Pasadena, Deer Park, and La Porte. The freeway heading toward Houston crosses 610 on the southeast side of town, but doesn't extend to downtown. Here's the kicker. . .a major stack interchange was built at 610 and 225, and that works to go out to Pasadena. But it also has huge ramps going toward Houston, even though the freeway comes to an end just a few hundred feet inside the 610 Loop! What happened?

Well, as it turns out, Texas 225 was supposed to eventually be built into downtown Houston as the Harrisburg Freeway. But opposition caused the project to be canceled in the 1970s. So we have ended up with a major interchange that leads to nothing. Below is an aerial shot of the interchange, with I-610 the vertical freeway, and Texas 225 the horizontal one. Clearly you can see the end of the freeway just to the west (left) of 610.

To read more about this waste of money and freeway anomaly, you can read the Houston Chronicle article about it from 1999 by CLICKING HERE.

A ground-level photo of the abrupt freeway ending is at the bottom of the page by clicking on this link to the Texas Freeway site.

No comments: