Houston is the largest city in Texas and fourth-largest city in the United States. The city is a center for the Oil and Energy industry, but is also home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center and former Continental Airlines (which merged with the UAL Corporation in October 2010). The world’s first domed stadium, the Astrodome, is located in Houston. Houston also offers the largest hospital in the state, and is home to University of Houston and Rice University. Major sports teams include the Houston Astros (MLB), Texans (NFL) and Rockets (NBA).
Background information on Houston freeways will be limited in scope on this site. Erik Slotbloom’s book and website, Houston Freeways, goes into significant detail on the freeways that are vital to keeping Houston moving.
With the rapid growth of Houston, roadway construction struggles to maintain pace with new developments and the infastructure required to support growth. This list is not all-inclusive, but rather highlights some of the major projects around Houston:
Katy Freeway reconstruction – widen IH 10 from 6 lanes with HOV to 8-10 general purpose lanes, and 4 managed express toll / HOV lanes.
Grand Parkway – Extend SH 99 around Houston between IH 10 west and SH 146 in Baytown, circling the north side of Houston, from IH 69 & US 59 west to SH 146 east of IH 45 near Kemah.
West Loop – Reconstruction of IH 610 between IH 10 and US 59. Includes reconstruction of both stack interchanges.
Feasibility studies for improvements on the SH 288 (South Freeway), IH 45 and SH 35 corridors.
Katy Freeway / East Freeway
IH 10 travels west to east across the metro area, entering in Katy and leaving the metro area in Baytown. As the only east-west freeway across Houston, IH 10 is heavily traveled with thru traffic and commuters from Katy and the western suburbs.
The first section of the Katy Freeway opened in 1956, between Campbell and Blacock roads. Campbell Road west to IH 610 opened In 1961. SH 6 west to Katy opened in 1966, and the gap between SH 6 and Blacock road opened in 1967. The final section from Loop 610 to IH 45 opened in 1968. Between IH 45 and US 59 downtown, IH 10 opened on May 17, 1972.
The first section of the East Freeway opened in 1953, between the then-existing Houston city limits near present-day Beltway 8 and the San Jacinto River. The freeway was extended east to Baytown by 1959. A short section from McCarthy Road to Loop 610 opened in 1958, with this gap between the 1958 and 1953 sections completed in 1961. The freeway was completed to US 59 in 1966.
The Katy Freeway is undergoing a widening project from Katy to Loop 610. The original freeway was built in a minimal right of way, with only six lanes. The new road will be 8 general purpose lanes from Fort Bend County to IH 610, with four toll lanes in the middle from SH 6 to IH 610, and a reversible HOV lane between SH 99 (Grand Parkway) and SH 6.
Gulf Freeway / North Freeway
Beginning in Galveston, the Gulf Freeway aims directly for the heart of Houston. Once downtown, IH 45 forms the west side of the downtown loop as the Pierce Elevated. North of downtown, IH 45 is the North Freeway, a workhorse freeway that is the poster child for freeway development in Texas (many would argue it is a visual eyesore with the overwhelming commercial activity).
The first section of the Gulf Freeway opened in 1948 from Scott Street to Telephone Road. The freeway was extended to South Loop 610 in 1951, then extended (as expressway) to Galveston in 1952. The expressway sections were upgraded in phases during 1959 (South Loop 610 to Fuqua Street), 1964 (Fuqua Street to FM 1959), and 1976 (FM 1959 to Galveston). The loop around downtown between Allen Parkway and Pierce St opened in 1955, with the full freeway between IH 10 and Pierce Street open in 1962. The Pierce Elevated (Pierce St to Scott St) opened in 1967, followed by the US 59/IH 45 interchange in 1974.
The North Freeway was constructed very quickly. Crosstimbers Road to Parker Road was the first section to open in 1959, followed by North Loop 610 to Crosstimbers Road in 1961. The section north of Beltway 8 through Spring also opened in 1961. The link between Loop 610 North and downtown opened in 1962, followed by the link between Parker Road and Beltway 8 in 1963.
IH 45 underwent a number of construction projects to widen the freeway during the 1980s and 1990s. The freeway, however, remains narrow and clogged. The North Freeway has a parallel road, the Hardy Toll Road, to ease congestion, but most of the traffic takes IH 45 to avoid tolls.
Long-range plans call for widening IH 45 between IH 610 and Beltway 8 north of Downtown.
North / East / South / West Loop
Loop 610 is the inside loop of Houston. Named simply for which side of downtown the road is on (North Loop 610, East Loop 610, South Loop 610, West Loop 610), Loop 610 was first proposed in the 1930s, and approved in 1941 as surface streets (known as Loop 137).
The North Loop was constructed between primarily between 1960 and 1964 with the exception of Hardy Street to Fairbanks Road, which opened in 1975. The West Loop was constructed between 1963 and 1968. The first leg of the South Loop between IH 45 and SH 225, opened in 1952, with the remainder open between 1969 and 1975. The East Loop was the last to be built, with construction between 1973 and 1975. More details on each individual section can be found on Houston Freeways.
Eastex Freeway / Southwest Freeway
US 59 enters the metropolitan area in Kingwood as the Eastex Freeway. Traveling south through Humble, US 59 passes the east side of Bush Intercontinental Airport then travels southwest into downtown. Forming the east and southeast side of the downtown loop, the Southwest Freeway spawns SH 288, then goes southwest past Greenway Plaza to Sharpstown, eventually ending up in Sugar Land before leaving the metropolitan area on the way to Victoria.
US 59 was constructed between IH 10 and IH 45 in 1966. The Eastex Freeway first opened in 1953 near Loop 610, with the section from IH 10 north to Tidwell Road open in 1956. The freeway was completed to Beltway 8 in 1960, and extended to FM 1960 between 1969 and 1970. North of FM 1960, US 59 was completed in 1981. Reconstruction of US 59 was completed in 1998.
The Southwest Freeway opened in 1961 from Spur 527 southwest to Kirby Rd, followed by Kirby Rd to Westpark Rd. in 1962. Construction through Sharpstown was completed in 1965, with the freeway completed through Houston by 1975. Reconstruction is currently in progress near Montrose Rd to trench the formerly elevated freeway.
The Crosby Freeway was planned in 1955, but the first section did not open to traffic (as a freeway) until 1987. The continuation of the freeway between IH 10 (at IH 610 east) and Beltway 8 is currently under construction.
West of downtown, US 90 is overlapped with IH 10. US 90 has been shifted many times through Houston, from the historic alignment along Washington Street into downtown to a overlap with IH 610 to the present overlap with IH 10.
US 90A, Main Street, follows the original alignment of former US 90 from the southwest. US 90A was designated in 1942, and upgraded to divided highway (as a overlap with US 59) in 1952. The section between Hiram Clark Road and IH 610 has been converted to a mini-freeway, with grade separations, but is not to full freeway standards.
The Northwest Freeway is a basic commuter freeway. US 290 enters Houston co-signed with SH 6 from Hempstead, then travels southwest to meet IH 610 just north of IH 10. The interchange with IH 610 opened in 1963, while the freeway itself was constructed between 1975 and 1982 inside Beltway 8, and 1985 through 2002 northwest of Beltway 8. There are plans for a parallel tollway along Hempstead Road to relieve some pressure on US 290, which is overcrowded.
The Grand Parkway was first discussed in 1965, but allowed to die in the mid-1970s. The road was brought back to life by the developers of Cinco Ranch, a community on the west side of Houston, in 1982. Due to issues with environmental impacts, land acquisition, and delays, TxDOT took control of the project, with the first (and only) completed section between IH 10 and US 59 through Cinco Ranch opening in 1994.
Sections of Grand Parkway between IH 10 and US 59 north of Houston, as well as US 59 southwest of Houston to SH 288 have been defined and are undergoing Environmental Impact statements. The remainder of the parkway between US 59 and IH 10 east of Houston, and SH 188 to SH 146 southeast of Houston, have not yet been defined. The segment between IH 10 east of Baytown and SH 146 is currently under construction.
Robert Lanier Freeway
SH 146 was designated in 1939, and planned for expressway upgrade in 1955. However, the first freeway section, just north of Farimont Parkway, opened around 1971. The freeway was extended south to its present terminus in 1987, then extended north through Baytown after the construction of Fred Hartman bridge in 1995. The remainder of the present freeway opened in 1996-97.
La Porte Freeway
The La Porte Freeway runs from IH 610 to SH 146 in La Porte. The first section of freeway opened in 1966 to South Richey Road, with extension to Red Bluff Road in 1971. Freeway lanes to Center Avenue, crossing Beltway 8, opened in 1983-84. The Freeway was slowly completed to SH 146, with final completion in 2000.
SH 225 was designated in 1939 as a state highway between US 75 and Baytown.
Designated in 1989, the freeway for SH 249 was constructed to replace FM 149, which had become congested due to development along its corridor spurred by the construction of the Compaq (now HP) campus in Northwest Houston.
SH 249 opened in 1997, and was extended as freeway to Spring Cypress Road in 2000. The Tomball Bypass is currently under construction.
SH 288 was designated in 1939 between Houston and Freeport. The freeway was designed in the mid-1960s, with TxDOT planning it for an ultimate width of 14 lanes in a dual freeway design. The eight outer lanes, serving local traffic, were the only ones ever built, with the inner six lane express freeway uncompleted.
The freeway opened (as expressway) south of Loop 610 in 1981, followed by a section north of Loop 610 (as full freeway). The full freeway between US 59 and Loop 610 was open by 1984, with the expressway south of Loop 610 upgraded to Freeway during the 1990s.
Construction of the inner express lanes is under study, possibly as a toll road.
Spur 330 was authorized as a freeway in 1961. The frontage roads were the first built, and were completed by 1966. Freeway mainlanes were a long time coming, though, and were not completed until 2004.
Hardy Toll Road
The Hardy Toll Road is a parallel reliever route to the North Freeway, IH 45. Houston’s first toll road was approved in 1983. The section north of Beltway 8 opened in 1987, followed by the section south of Beltway 8 to IH 610 in 1988. The airport connector opened in 2000. The Hardy Toll Road has no frontage roads along the northern section.
Plans are to extend the Hardy Toll Road to downtown (meeting IH 10 and US 59 at their interchange). This section of road is currently in the design phase.
Sam Houston Tollway
Plans for a second beltway around Houston were formulated as early as 1952, with a corridor designated as a freeway by 1960 by Harris County. However, construction was slow and Harris County could not build the freeway, so the beltway was adopted into the state highway system in 1969. The first completed section, between IH 45 and US 59 to serve Intercontinental Airport, opened in 1970 as frontage roads only. As the route continued to get delayed, Harris County stepped in again and took the road back, eventually agreeing to build the main lanes as a tollway, with TXDot building the frontage roads. As a result, the frontage roads are Beltway 8 while the tolled lanes are the Sam Houston Tollway.
The toll lanes opened between 1987 and 1997. The toll lanes between US 59 and IH 10 on the Northeast side of Houston are not yet constructed. The freeway lanes between IH 45 and US 59 serving Intercontinental Airport do not have a toll, and are known as Beltway 8, the Sam Houston Parkway.
Future plans call for construction of the Toll lanes between US 59 and IH 10 in Northeast Houston beginning in 2007.
Fort Bend Parkway
Fort Bend Parkway was originally planned in the 1960s, and dropped due to enviromental issues and lack of funds. The freeway was added back to the planning books by Fort Bend County, who supported the project, in the mid-1980s, leading to the State Highway designation. After additional delays, it was decided to build the road as a tollway, avoiding funding delays.
The first section of Fort Bend Parkway opened in 2004. The extension between Beltway 8 and US 90A in Harris County opened in 2005.
The completed section of the Fort Bend Parkway is not designated a state highway – only the uncompleted section from SH 6 to SH 99 is designated a state highway.
The Westpark Tollway is a new road, paralelling FM 1093 (Westheimer Road). The Tollway was constructed in 2003 and opened in phases between 2004 and 2005. The Tollway starts at US 59 and Loop 610, heading west to Beltway 8, SH 6 and will eventually reach the Grand Parkway (SH 99) in Fort Bend County. HCTRA constructed the Tollway in Harris County, and Fort Bend County has constructed the Tollway west of FM 1488. The only remaining link of the tollway to be constructed are direct ramps to SH 99.
Westheimer Road begins at Loop 610 and travels west towards SH 99 (as UR 1093), then continues west to eventually reach FM 3013 at Eagle Lake. The FM road was originally designated in 1949 from Post Oak Road west to FM 359.
FM 1960 is a major arterial road through north Houston. The road was originally designated in 1951-52 between US 290 and US 59, then extended through Humble in 1954. FM 1960 was relocated to the Humble bypass in 1978, and has been widened to its present six lane configuration as development has necessitated widening. The section between US 290 and FM (UR) 3100 is now designated an Urban Road (UR), but signed as a Farm to Market (FM) road.
FM 2920 was designated in 1964 between US 290 and FM 149 (now SH 249). The road was extended in 1965 to IH 45. FM 2920 is rapidly becoming another major arterial through Spring and Tomball as development continues to march northward.
Page Updated August 22, 2006.