Interstate 610 or I -610 is an Interstate Highway in the U.S. state of Texas, located in the city of Houston. The road forms a ring road in Houston 6 to 12 kilometers from downtown, and distributes traffic from the various radial highways to the industrial and residential areas around the center. The highway is known as The Loop or Loop 610. The I-610 is the boundary between the older residential areas and the large new residential areas further from downtown. The highway’s start and end point is at the interchange with SH 288 on the south side of town. The ring road is 61 kilometers long.
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The North Loop.
The highway begins at the 4-level stack interchange with SH 288, the South Freeway. From here run 2×5 lanes with a Frontage Road on both sidesto the west. The corridor has 16 lanes. After a few kilometers you pass a huge parking lot with an unused viaduct, remains of a now demolished amusement park. Then you pass through an office park. There are few parking garages in Houston, just large parking lots on each side of every office building. This makes for a messy highway environment. After a few more miles, the highway turns due north, straight ahead onto Braeswood Boulevard and Post Oak Road. Then you pass through Bellaire, an enclave in Houston. Due to the lack of zoning regulation, office buildings are also located next to houses here.
The I-610 in Midtown Houston.
A 4-level stack interchange crosses US 59, the Southwest Freeway, which runs from Houston to the Sugar Land suburb and beyond to Victoria. You then pass through a second center of Houston, with large high-rise buildings along the highway. This 2nd center is called Uptown, and traffic jams can regularly occur here. A third stack junction crosses Interstate 10, the Katy Freeway. After this, I-610 counts 2×6 lanes plus weave lanes. The frontage roads are missing here. After just a few miles, I-610 curves east, and straight ahead is US 290, the Northwest Freeway, which heads to the sprawling suburbs of the metropolitan area’s northwest. At this nodeis again an office park with some high-rise buildings.
This part of I-610 has 2×4 lanes. The Frontage Roads of Feeders are also present again. A fourth stack junction then crosses Interstate 45 or North Freeway, which runs from Houston to Dallas. After this, I-610 again has 5 or 6 lanes in each direction. One then crosses the Hardy Toll Road, a toll road that runs parallel to I-45, and is an alternative to it. I-610 then rises slightly to cross US 59 a second time, this time the Eastex Freeway leading to the northeastern suburbs. After this, only 2×2 and 2×3 lanes are available. At an industrial estate, I-610 turns south again, and at a fifth 4-level stack junctioncrosses Interstate 10, the Baytown East Freeway, which leads to the suburb of Baytown and toward New Orleans.
After this there are again 2×5 lanes, and you pass the shipping and petrochemical industry around the Buffalo Bayou or the Ship Channel. This canal is crossed via a 2×4 lane cable-stayed bridge. South of the bridge it crosses SH 255 or the Pasadena Freeway which leads to Pasadena, Deer Park and La Porte. The highway then turns west again, and a complicated interchange crosses Interstate 45, the Gulf Freeway that goes to Galveston. After this there are 2×4 lanes, and the I-610 ends again at the interchange with SH 288 or the South Freeway.
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As early as 1931, it was determined that Houston needed a ring road so that through traffic would not have to drive through downtown. Houston had a population of 300,000 at the time and no suburbs. The plan was not developed further in the 1930s, but became topical again in 1940 with the Second World War. From a defense point of view, it may have become necessary to move large amounts of troops and equipment through Houston, and a route through the center would not be convenient. Plans from the early 1940s did not yet foresee a real freeway, but an urban arterial. In 1943, it was agreed to reserve a 150-foot (46-meter) right-of-way for the planned ring road, which was numbered Loop 137.
However, the project was not immediately implemented, and in the early 1950s a master plan was drawn up for freeways in and around Houston, including an entire ring road constructed as a freeway. When the route was established in the 1950s, Houston was already growing north. The suburbs were already 7 to 8 kilometers north of I-610 in 1953. Elsewhere, Houston had grown little beyond planned I-610, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. In 1950-1954, the first section opened on the northeast side of Houston, between the Eastex and East Freeways. The rest of I-610 is quite fragmented, opening in many phases between 1960 and 1975. So I-610 was completed later than Houston’s other freeways. The last section opened on September 22, 1975 in northeast Houston.Beltway 8, also in northeast Houston in 2011.
Graphical overview of I-610 openings.
|SH 225 La Porte Freeway||I-45 Gulf Freeway||2.5 km||00-12-1952|
|I-45 North Freeway||Hardy Toll Road||2.3 km||00-00-1960|
|West Park Drive||Richmond Avenue||1.6 km||24-07-1962|
|Ella Boulevard||I-45 North Freeway||5.2 km||00-04-1963|
|Woodway Drive||Jester Boulevard||5.2 km||28-10-1963|
|Richmond Avenue||San Felipe Street||1.3 km||00-06-1964|
|Homestead Road||I-10 Baytown East Freeway||5.9 km||00-12-1964|
|San Felipe Street||Woodway Drive||2.0 km||00-11-1966|
|Jester Boulevard||Ella Boulevard||1.2 km||02-02-1967|
|Braeswood Boulevard||West Park Drive||4.3 km||19-03-1968|
|Wayside Drive||Fannin Street||8.5 km||00-01-1969|
|Fannin Street||Post Oak Road||5.3 km||16-05-1969|
|Reveille Street||Wayside Drive||2.7 km||00-09-1970|
|Post Oak Road||Braeswood Boulevard||0.5 km||00-04-1971|
|Clinton Road||Manchester Street||2.3 km||02-03-1973|
|Manchester Street||SH 225 La Porte Freeway||1.0 km||00-01-1974|
|I-10 Baytown East Freeway||Clinton Drive||4.2 km||22-03-1974|
|I-45 Gulf Freeway||Reveille Street||0.5 km||00-08-1975|
|Hardy Toll Road||Homestead Road||5.1 km||22-09-1975|
Traffic on I-610 increased sharply after opening, particularly on the western portion where The Galleria and Uptown Houston were being developed. In 1968, when the West Loop was completed, 90,000 vehicles passed through it daily. 3 years later in 1971, 146,000 vehicles passed through this section, making it Houston’s busiest highway, a title previously borne by the Gulf Freeway (I-45). Until 1991, I-610 was Houston’s busiest highway.
Between 1989 and 1992, the northern portion of the West Loop was widened to 2×6 and 2×7 lanes between the Katy Freeway (I-10) and the Northwest Freeway (US 290). This point was a classic bottleneck due to a lot of weaving traffic between the three highways. On October 13, 2014, a new braid opened between the Katy Freeway and Northwest Freeway. This reduced the extreme weaving. This was the first phase to widen I-610 to 33 lanes on site.
In the early 1990s, TxDOT wanted to widen the ring road to 24 lanes in some places, but this plan never got off the ground and the plans were scrapped in 1992. The department of transportation then built extra long weaving sections that de facto serve as extra lanes. Congestion temporarily eased after this, but I-610 West Loop is still considered Houston’s most congested highway.
As part of the widening of the Northwest Freeway (US 290), the northern portion of the West Loop was also widened in 2017 between the interchange with US 290 and the Katy Freeway (I-10). This part has been widened from 2×6 lanes and 2 separate HOV lanes to 4+5+5+4 lanes, plus frontage roads and connecting roads. In addition, there is a space reservation for a High Capacity Transit Corridor on the west side of I-610. The total cross section here counts up to 28 lanes.
Cross section of I-610 between US 290 and I-10.
The “West Loop,” the section between I-10 (Katy Freeway) and I-69 (Southwest Freeway), has the most congestion of any highway in Texas. Plans to widen this section arose soon after opening, but were scrapped in 1992. Despite the strongly growing congestion, there were no concrete plans to tackle this bottleneck for a long time. There is still a left hard shoulder available, but a larger-scale expansion is actually necessary. In 2015, it was proposed to build express lanes on overpasses in the median strip of I-610 between I-10 and I-69. Along the ‘West Loop’ is Uptown, an important sub-center of Houston, with edge city characteristics, although certainly not on the edge of the metropolitan area.
I-610 / I-69 interchange
The stack interchange between I-69 and I-610 in Bellaire in southwest Houston is being reconstructed. Some flyovers are being rebuilt with a higher capacity. There will be two-lane flyovers from south to west and vice versa. From north to west comes a three-lane flyover and from north to east comes a two-lane flyover with better geometry. The viaduct of the I-610 also has to be replaced by a wider viaduct with emergency lanes. This project was originally planned to be completed in three separate phases, but an additional $132 million was made available in January 2016 to complete the reconstruction in one go. Work started on 20 November 2017 and should be completed by mid-2022. In April 2020, the first new flyover opened for traffic from I-69 north to I-610 south. The replacement of the node will cost approximately $260 million.
I-610 in Uptown Houston, the busiest part.
The data below are intensities after the relevant exit.
The 2017 widened I-610 between I-10 (Katy Freeway) and US 290 (Northwest Freeway).
|SH 288||US 59||2×5||southwest side|
|US 59||I-10||2×4||west side|
|I-10||US 290||2×7||northwest side|
|US 290||I-45||2×4||northwest side|
|I-45||US 59||2×5||north side|
|US 59||I-10||2×4||northeast side|
|I-45||SH 288||2×4||southeast side|