In 1955, a six-lane highway in Houston sliced the city's Memorial Park in half—effectively isolating each side of the ecosystem. Now, over 65 years later, that damage will begin to be reversed thanks to a new land bridge designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. Dozens of species will once again be able to migrate across the nearly 1,500-acre park, which will be the largest urban park in the United States.
The eco-bridge has two massive tunnels that will begin to funnel traffic in February 2023. At that point, the architects will then focus on the surrounding landscape. This includes shaping an appropriate prairie network on the 45 acres that sits on top and surrounds the tunnels. As these types of wildlife bridges have had success around the globe, it's exciting to think of how Houston's land bridge will transform the environment.
The Memorial Park land bridge differs from others in the United States because it not only unites the park but has also been constructed to integrate stormwater management and water quality treatment. The project is an effort that involves many experts aside from the landscape architects. Civil engineers, structural engineers, scientists, fluvial geomorphologists, prairie experts, and urban biologists have all used their expertise to ensure that this infrastructure project will meet the needs of the community while also preserving the environment.
The utmost care was taken in the planning of the bridge, even down to the soil used to cover the tunnels. The soil was harvested from other land projects within Memorial Park, meaning that no earth had to be imported for the bridge. Once the landscape is complete, it will be a thriving Coastal Prairie ecosystem. According to Nelson Byrd Woltz, this ecosystem is one of North America's most endangered.
By selecting soils and deep-rooted Coastal Prairie plants with resiliency and the ability to slow and store stormwater in carefully calibrated channels and wetlands, the bridge and surroundings will provide a healthy environment for wildlife while keeping the area safe.
When the Memorial Park Land Bridge opens in early 2023, it will be the largest land bridge in Texas and begin working its magic to restore this prized urban park's environment.