Houston residents were able to get an up-close look at the new Memorial Park Land Bridge tunnel, which will open to vehicle traffic in the spring of 2022, during a celebration and tour on Saturday, February 5, 2022. You can see video from the event above. The new tunnels are part of the transformational Memorial Park Land Bridge and Prairie project, which is set to be completed in late 2022, according to the Memorial Park Conservancy. The conservancy said the completion of the tunnel construction project is a major milestone in the overhaul plan.
The event on Saturday included a party-like atmosphere, with a live DJ, photo opportunities, food trucks and giveaways. The Memorial Park Conservancy said it was an opportunity to educate the public on the Memorial Park master plan and its 10-year project. According to the conservancy, “Comprised of two separate 35-foot-tall hills, the Land Bridge will serve as a major connector for Memorial Park users and wildlife between the north and south sides of the Park, offering new gathering spaces with scenic views of Houston and the project’s expansive prairie system.”
The Memorial Park Conservancy added, “Beginning in March 2022, vehicular traffic will traverse a new alignment of Memorial Drive via tunnels through the Land Bridge – two tunnels below each of the hills (one for each direction of travel). The tunnel openings will be phased, with the eastbound tunnels opening to traffic first, followed by the westbound tunnels. All tunnels will be opened for traffic in April. Together, the Land Bridge and Prairie comprise green infrastructure that will introduce a new 100-acre area for Houstonians to explore and enjoy, provide a safe crossing for Park users, reconnect wildlife corridors and help manage stormwater for the benefit of the city.”
‘People Can Throw a Picnic Blanket Down’ & Enjoy the Views From the Top of the 35-Feet Hills Above the Tunnels Once They Open, the Memorial Park Conservancy Said
Shellye Arnold, the president and CEO of the Memorial Park Conservancy, “Today is an important milestone. We’re getting ready to open the tunnels on Memorial Drive that will enable the completion of the Land Bridge and Prairie Project, which is a 100-acre project inside Memorial Park. It’s really an impactful project for all of Houston, not just the park. This project is really great for Houston in so many respects. It was envisoned and really catalyzed by the need for a safe crossing across Memorial Drive for people and for animals and for greater access to both sides of the park. This 1,500-acre park is cut in half by Memorial Drive. But in planning for this project, and studying the park, we found so much more opportunity. So we’ve created in this project something that’s pretty complex from a design perspective.”
She said the project manages stormwater better than prior to the project, “so we’re building a native Gulf Coast prairie, which we’re destroying. That’s what was common to Houston and native to Houston hundreds of years ago, even 10s of years ago. It’s more absorptive. It’s better for the environment. We’re building in greater resiliancy. We’re also creating greater biodiversity. … And this will just be fun. It will be beautiful, there will be beautiful views. People can throw a picnic blanket down on top of these 35-feet two hills. You can see the downtown skyline and the uptown skyline. It’s going to be a blast. Good for animals, good for people, good for the environment.”
The Memorial Park Conservancy says, “The prairie restoration, which adjoins the Land Bridge, re-introduces endangered native Gulf Coast prairie and additional wetlands to areas north and south of Memorial Drive. A new network of trails will provide safe crossing for people and wildlife. Both prairie and wetlands serve important habitat and stormwater management functions and are a key part of the Park’s ecological restoration to ensure resiliency. Together, the Land Bridge and Prairie will distinguish Memorial Park and Houston, serving as an icon to all of a greener and more resilient future. Completion is projected for late 2022. Memorial Drive will remain open throughout the duration of the project.”
The Kinder Foundation Gave a $70 Million Contribution to the Project in 2018 With Hopes of Turning Memorial Park Into ‘Even More of a Jewel of an Urban Park’
Richard Kinder, of the Kinder Foundation said, “This is an important day for us because it’s a big part of the transformational project that we’ve been involved in, which is building this land bridge that will cover all four of these tunnels and provide connectivity from the north end of the park to the south end of the park. We will have a conduit that will be good for people and animals. It’s an exciting park. When you think about Memorial Park, it’s a great urban park and this is going to take it to a whole nother level.”
Rich Kinder, a Houston billionaire businessman, and Nancy Kinder donated $70 million to the project through the Kinder Foundation in 2018. Rich Kinder said, “We think that urban greenspace in Houston has been neglected for eeons. And we thought it was time for something to be done about that. Unfortunately there’s not enough public money to do all of these things. So beginning with Discovery Green and then Buffalo Bayou Park and Bayou Greenways and now Memorial Park, we are trying to make a difference. And we certainly don’t deserve all the credit, we’ve put money into these projects, but more importantly we’ve partnered with the organizations, like the Memorial Park Conservancy, like Buffalo Bayou Park Partnership and they are the ones who are really delivering the bacon here and it’s really gratifying to have the kind of partnership we have.”
Nancy Kinder added, “It was heartwarming. We’re very excited and I guess in a month it will open and people will be driving by.” She said Houston doesn’t really have an iconic marker. “We’re hoping the land bridge will become one of the iconic things for Houston. There are a lot of people who come to Memorial Park, not just from close by, but every zip code in town,” Nancy Kinder said.
Rich Kinder said the bridge will help connect the whole park. “Most people don’t realize Memorial Park has over 1,500 acres. To put that persepctive that’s twice the size of Central Park in New York,” he said. “And for years, generations really, the north end of the park, where the Seymour Lieberman trail is, where the golf course is, that’s had all of the activity and all the focus. But there’s as much acerage south of Memorial as there is north. When this is finished, the whole 1,500 acres of the park will be open to everybody. It will connect the two sides of Memorial Drive without running the gauntlet of traffic. … I think people are just going to be shocked to have this elevation. When you go up on top of these tunnels, it’s only 35 feet in elevation, but in Houston that’s a hell of a lot. And the views of Downtown and of the Galleria area and Uptown Park are just phenomenal. This will make it even more of a jewel of an urban park. That’s our dream anyway.”
Nancy Kinder said, “The foundation looks for transformational projects and this is definitely a transformational project.” She said it was “heartwarming” to see the turnout for the celebration, with hundreds waiting to get in at 11 a.m. “We want everyone to be a part of this. This is their park, not ours,” she said.