Saturday, October 14, 2017

New strategies for post-Harvey Houston and MaX Lanes

A couple of big new items from me this week.  The first is the official release of my COU white paper (along with Wendell Cox) on Houston after Hurricane Harvey, cleverly titled "A Layman’s Guide To Houston After Harvey: Don’t Throw The Opportunity Baby Out With The Stormwater" as a follow-on to an earlier piece from Kotkin and Cox.  Our paper led to this interview with Atlantic City Lab.

Out of that work came some preliminary recommendations/ideas that aren't in the paper, but I'm interested in hearing feedback on in the comments. I'll be the first to admit that these are very high level, and that people far more qualified than I are looking into many of these at a much deeper level.
  1. FEMA should accelerate programs to buyout homes that flood repeatedly. 7,000 homes could be removed for roughly $2 billion.
  2. Jumpstart the Trump infrastructure plan with a FEMA infrastructure investment bank, since FEMA is best positioned to see the costs and benefits of flood mitigation infrastructure projects.
  3. Review detention regulations, especially the 10,000 sq.ft minimum rule.  Also consider increasing the detention standard so runoff is actually reduced by development vs. land left undeveloped.
  4. Instead of an outright ban on floodplain development - which risks government takings lawsuits or very high costs of buyouts – enforce high elevation and detention requirements on such developments.  Houston should be confident that every new outlying development is actually reducing the flow of water into downstream bayous.
  5. Review reservoirs for upgrades and improvements.  Evaluate the potential for additional new reservoirs and detention parks.
  6. Consider cross-connecting reservoirs and bayous using high-voltage power-line rights-of-way so areas at risk for overflowing can have alternate drainage channels. One possibility would be to connect the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to White Oak and Braes Bayous to reduce stress and flooding on Buffalo Bayou (see power-line RoW map here and note the dotted lines on the west side near the reservoirs connecting to both bayous).  If such channels had existed during Harvey, thousands of homes near the reservoirs would not have needed to flood during reservoir releases (as Dallas News exposed in this story about a never-implemented 1996 plan under I10).
  7. Use Harvey as a new modeling benchmark for flooding. Projects can be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis for property value that would have been removed from Harvey flooding.
  8. Reinstate ReBuild Houston, including a new ballot this fall if necessary. Popular support seems assured after Harvey.
  9. Consider relaxing minimum parking regulations in favor of additional stormwater retention.  Allow new developments or re-developments to tradeoff parking for additional stormwater retention.
  10. Consider special purpose/TIRZ districts in specific watersheds for mitigation projects in those watersheds.  These projects would be paid for by the tax-increment value increase of properties removed from the floodplains.
  11. When adding new taxes or fees for drainage funding, consider market-based incentives that give property owners credits to reduce their tax with water retention improvements like green roofs, cisterns, water barrels, permeable pavers, and detention ponds.
  12. Don’t let Harvey’s rainfall make us lose sight of Houston’s high storm-surge risk (especially in the industrial Ship Channel) and the continuing need for the Ike Dike or mid-bay solutions.  Evaluate potential financing of these projects with the savings from resulting flood insurance rate reductions.  Eric Berger also pointed out that we've grown complacent about the risks from very high winds, since nothing higher than a Cat 2 hurricane has hit us since the early 60s.  Construction standards should be revisited.
  13. Harvey exposed the need for elevated roads to help evacuations and first responders get around the city during flood events.  As Houston further develops its network of Managed eXpress (MaX) Lanes (see below), consider elevating them to provide this network.  This is the quote that made me think of it: "It seems like there would be a way to create an elevated road that helps people get out all the time [rather than rely solely on low-lying, water-conveying roads]."  -Wesley Highfield, professor of marine sciences at Texas A&M University at Galveston who specializes in flood resilience in an interview here.
  14. Businessweek just profiled the app that came out of Superstorm Sandy flooding in NYC, and now it’s being adapted for NOLA and Portland – maybe Houston should too? Flood Insurance Is Hard. This Hurricane Site Can Help – Bloomberg
One thing Houston is really good at is engineering, and this is really just a large cost-benefit engineering optimization problem that should be manageable: calculating what $X investment will yield in $Y benefits in terms of property protected from future flooding.  Figuring out the right answers should be complex but relatively straightforward. But I acknowledge the politics will be trickier. Fingers crossed our representatives are up to the challenge, even if it involves a few tax increases.

The second item is a video of my recent MaX Lanes presentation to the HGAC High Capacity Transit Task Force Workshop (complete report here). The first 11 minutes are my presentation followed by 10 minutes of Q-and-A.  The first question is from Carrin Patman, Chairman of METRO.  Later in the same video, Sam Lott from TSU has a great presentation on autonomous vehicles.


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At 7:37 PM, October 15, 2017, Blogger kjb434 said...

Great framework. Regarding to of your items:

Item 5: HCFCD is working on reintroducing plans for Cypress Creek Reservoir at the Harris/Waller county line. I'm assuming HCFCD would operate and maintain this versus the USACE.

Item 6: Having a reservoirs on White Oak and Brays interconnected to Addicks and Barker was part of the original plans from the 40s. Funding dried up after Addicks and Barker were built. The historian for HCFCD has a great presentation that includes this and project maps.

At 7:51 PM, October 15, 2017, Blogger Tory Gattis said...



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