Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Binford Road and Kickapoo Road

I write this with a bit of a tear in my eye, as I fondly remember heading back from Houston on Spring Break trips (2008, 2009, and perhaps others) I would see Binford and Kickapoo Road as the sun was starting to set. They were just two different roads in the countryside, well out of the hustle and bustle of Houston and its suburbs, with funny names and bulging out near the highway to four lanes before shrinking down to two. In 2015, that would all change with the building of the ComfortPlex (19001 Kermier Road): this mega-structure, a new HVAC factory/office campus. I can't tell what's worse, the continuing sprawl of Houston or the fact that it will drag traffic out here, or the fact that even "rural" in recent memory is once again being dramatically transformed (see Mason Road, below). And of course, those two lane roads have been widened to modern four lane roads, and stoplights have been added. At least Kermier Road just east of this retains this layout. There's no EB/WB designation for this one because it will catch your eye either way. The road curves. (Sorry I don't have a picture for this one, guys)

<< Back to Waller Tomball Road / AJ Foyt Parkway

>> Next Exit: Hegar Road

Hegar Road

Last interchange before it merges with Hempstead Road/starts following the railroad line. Note that Bauer-Hockley has a wooden bridge near its curving into Grimes, which is rare for this day and age. Around late 2015 construction began in this area.

<< Back to Binford Road and Kickapoo Road

>> Next Exit: Betka Road/Badtke Road

Betka Road / Badtke Road

About the time 290 became a full freeway, the railroad crossing was rebuilt to allow a full four-lane road later on. It's nice future proofing, but one wonders why they also didn't do this for Becker Road further down. This intersection also marks where Hempstead Road rejoins the freeway. The westbound lanes were removed but the two eastbound lanes become the new two lanes for the frontage road all the way to at least Mueschke Road. For a time in the late 1990s and very early 2000s, before the actual freeway portion was built in this section but after the bypass to Hempstead was built, the highway abruptly dead-ended as an entrance ramp took you onto the not-yet-a-freeway 290. Unfortunately, we don't have any aerials of what that looked like, all we have is some blurry undated photos by Marty Blaise.

<< Back to Hegar Road

>> Next Exit: Roberts Road / Katy-Hockley Road

Roberts Road / Katy-Hockley Road

We're getting closer to the Grand Parkway.
The Eastbound (South) side features a large concrete plant, Hanson Aggregates of Hockley (16910 Katy-Hockley Rd.) featuring a large, circular railroad spur (since it loops, it can't accurately be called a spur now, can it?) though right near it is an abandoned ROW that led out to a salt mine (which still exists).

The Northbound side has a large stone building (33400 U.S. Highway 290) that is currently home to "Sutong Tire Resources Inc." and originally opened as D&D Farm & Ranch Supermarket in 2001, which was billed as the world's largest western store upon opening and sold upscale western-inspired clothing, many of which consisted of, and I quote, "music-star jeans". The store also sold actual farm-related equipment including saddles, fencing, and home furnishings (but no food, ironically). D&D eventually moved on (it appears to be in Seguin now). By November 2005, the space reopened as Sergeant's Western World, which was in many ways more of the same but focused more on horse equipment and custom saddlery, with Western apparel and everything else following behind. I remember passing by Sergeant's in January 2009, when it was going out of business. It was replaced by Foster's Farm & Equipment store soon after. Foster's remained until sometime in late 2015 and was superseded by its next-door neighbor, Brookside Equipment Sales, with Sutong appearing by December 2016.

The stoplights here have flashing red beacons.

<< Back to Betka Road / Badtke Road

>> Next Exit: Becker Road

Becker Road

Becker Road is the first interchange with "real" things on it these days (and it's been four-laned as of 2012-2013). In the old days of pre-freeway 290, this was another troublesome area as the two sides of Becker Road did not continue straight across 290, requiring a slight bend in the road over the highway median, with this oversight only being fixed when the road was four-laned.


Community of Faith (16124 Becker Road) - A church (not related to The Community of Faith in Houston proper) which has a massive facility (originally built circa 2007 and built an expansion as of spring 2015), a super-stylized cross (shaped like a boomerang) and a bright electronic display screen which was toned down around late 2014 since drivers don't like a miniature sun 24/7 just off the freeway that's ten times worse when it's foggy.

Shell (32150 US-290) - I've gotten relatively cheap bottled water here (at least for gas station standards). The truck stop features a Taco Bell and Church's Chicken inside, though it's just two counters in a common seating area (and not particularly well-lit). Here's the front of the fast foods from the outside (taken 2/2015). If you're coming from West Houston Archives, you'll notice that the Taco Bell sign is now painted more of an orange color (I'm pretty sure it's not just the sunlight) and has lost its "Express" moniker.

Exxon (32202 US-290 Bldg. A) - An abandoned truck stop, "290 Express Way", which closed, according to Google Maps Street View, between early 2011 and early 2013). The truck stop originally opened between 1995 and 2004 and looks like it's been closed for a couple of years. The only reference I can find is a 1999 article where the owner described the major accidents happening at Becker Road, since it was not a freeway at the time nor had lights. I don't know why it closed, either problems stemming from the widening of Becker, or the fact that it may have been a less attractive option than Shell, as a good truck stop usually requires a prominently advertised restaurant option (usually fast food, but not always). A few photos I have (all from 2/15) include the empty canopies of the Exxon, the fading and deteriorating billboard, and the Exxon roadside sign—note the older Sonic in the background with the red and yellow neon.

Sonic Drive-In (32202 US-290 Bldg. B) - This Sonic looked like the older prototype of Sonic stores but is still very much open. I noticed as of June 2017 they finally did update the red and yellow perimeter neon to the modern Sonic prototype of the gray plastic tubing or whatever (yeah, I know that's an unflattering term). Despite the fact that it looked pretty old, it actually wasn't, it was actually built in 2004-2005.

<< Back to Roberts Road / Katy Hockley Road

>> Next Exit: Grand Parkway

Grand Parkway

No picture available, so we'll have to use one from the Houston Chronicle.

From some pillars in December 2011 to a huge interchange just two years later, this has long plagued 290 with concrete barriers, temporary lane markings, zero-distance merging lanes, and more (though it's gotten better). And it's not even a five-stack like they promised, which is hopeful in some ways as there are a number of bad designs around TxDOT projects that need to be substantially altered. This creates a major dividing point in the US-290 story and rather than a "creeping approach of suburbia" creates a physical divider in the landscape. The Grand Parkway opened in December 2013 southbound to Katy and the northern segment, connecting to Interstate 45 and The Woodlands, opened in early February 2016. To be fair, the five-stack would've required the frontage roads to be sunken or elevated over the railroad, and flooding was a big problem for the pre-rebuild Beltway 8/I-10 overpass. There's no addresses here because the exits only go to Grand Parkway and not the frontage road.

<< Back to Becker Road

>> Next Exit: Mason Road

Mason Road

H-E-B and all of its friends (taken February 2018)

Even in the not-very-distant past, Northwest Freeway here was largely a divided four lane highway with grass fields on one side and a railroad on the other, which is likely what the other segments had at one time. Going even further back (late 1990s or early 2000), I distinctly remember that Northwest Freeway resembled a bit of Wellborn Road (a road in College Station which this railroad line also parallels), but I knew it was not. In those distant days, there were some entrance signs for a subdivision called Fairfield, but it was a ways off, and you really couldn't see it all that well from the road. Parts of this are still intact, of course, like part of the railroad near Mason Road being partially obscured by trees. This "railroad in the woods" always fascinated/haunted me as a kid, and often times in later years I'd wonder where that was. This is the now rather busy Mason Road intersection and one of the first intersections to receive a stoplight (sometime in the 1990s, only one article talks about it but it was there back in 1995), but even that was dangerous as it was the only light on 290 east of Chappell Hill and it was difficult for cars to stop doing 70 mph (or above). Of course, the pre-freeway age has many memories that I've finally identified from years ago, like going back from the Houston Museum of Natural Science in 2004 for a school trip and highly regretting not using the restroom when I had the chance (that was a most uncomfortable two hours...), or even earlier, talking about SimCity with my brother (what a mystical "SimCity 4000" might have). Things changed, of course, and not just terms of growing up. [UPDATE: Sadly, in January 2019, they began removing the trees, first by removing the limbs and branches, then the trees entirely.]

First, around 2005 or 2006, they actually completed the freeway, and soon started construction on a massive outdoor outlet mall which opened in spring 2008. There was also a sign just to the west to it for a new H-E-B store, all the way out there. In the end, the H-E-B opened a bit to the EAST of the outlet mall, and while not a "Plus" store, is a roomy, upscale store that opened in the fall of 2012. Then more and more things opened, including a Kroger Marketplace, many little shops, and another shopping center with Academy and the like. Today it's what Spring Cypress Road was 10 years ago and looks nothing like what it used to. Meanwhile, the freeway dramatically changed again, with construction undergoing on both sides to widen the road (again).

In the old version of the page and previous versions I tried to sort out the addresses by "Eastbound" and "Westbound", which was a bit confusing especially how some did not seem to line up with the actual exits. In this section, it covers the Grand Parkway to Fairfield Creek. All of the addresses are Northwest Freeway/U.S. 290 unless noted.

One more thing I should bring up is that westbound has its own exit for Fairfield Place, when the freeway was constructed around 2007 (originally). Good future planning if everything wasn't torn up within a decade.

29900 - Second Baptist Church - Cypress. This megachurch with its roots closer to the Houston Inner Loop opened October 30, 2016.

29300 - Houston Premium Outlets.

I've noticed even from the highway a number of tenants have come and gone, which I probably won't cover here. The large outdoor mall opened in April 2009. West Houston Archives notes that this was the historic site of Nine Bar Ranch.

29100 - A strip center built between 2008 and 2011. Already there have been a few changes. The tenant that faced the freeway, Verizon Wireless moved out in 2015 and an H&R Block replaced it. The 2015 lineup from north to south is Tomiko Japanese Restaurant (100), Paris Salon (110), a dentist office that only says "Dentist" on the facade and zooming in looks like it says "1st Care Dental" but I can't find anything on a dental office in this strip center so moving on, 3D Nailspa & Lashes (120), "SmallCakes: A Cupcakery" (220), Memorial Taylors (250), All Floors & More (400), Sergio's Mexican Grill (500), State Farm Insurance (600), and aforementioned H&R Block (can't find the suite number but I assume 700).

28550 - H-E-B. The aforementioned H-E-B not only has a fuel center but is a huge H-E-B, with a 100,000 square foot store, which opened in fall 2012. This is not only big for an H-E-B store but big for a supermarket in general. It would precede a bunch of restaurants opening to the northwest and continuing development perpetually occurring.

29060 - Rooms to Go. Opened in July 2016, I recognized this furniture store by its construction before the name ever went up. The Community Impact link mentions a full-line children's showroom area as well as the opening date.

28644 - Chick-fil-a opened August 2014 if memory serves.

28638 - Taco Bell was open by late 2013, if I'm correct.

28630 - Whataburger opened late February 2014.

28624 - McDonald's opened early 2015 (I think).

28616 - Academy Sports + Outdoors opened sometime in late 2015. The first tenant in Fairfield Towne Center, the new strip center going up.

15050 Fairfield Village - The home of the long since forgotten Fairfield Market, which opened here in spring 1992 (or late 1991), one of the first grocery stores in the Fairfield area. Ironically next to one of the newest supermarkets in the area (Kroger Marketplace), this store never did expand to 30,000 square feet or 40,000 square feet as hoped. At some point between 1996 (a confirmed time of when it was open still) and 2003 (when it was confirmed to be closed), a fire in the deli area shut down the store permanently. From 2010 to 2014 it briefly became home to My Father's House, a church, and after the Kroger and others were built it became a "supermarket" again, that is, a business called Pet Supermarket. A few other tenants are here, including Gambino's Pizza.

20355 Cypresswood - Kroger Marketplace opened in December 2015 based on the crowds but had its grand opening in January 2016 (officially).

28060 - Wendy's opened here sometime around late 2016. I don't remember it because I wasn't really driving in the area during that time.

<< Back to Grand Parkway

>> Next Exit: Mueschke Road