After years of inactivity, construction to create a six-lane toll road on Hwy. 249 could begin within two years. In October 2010, Hwy. 249 was left off the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s 2035 regional transportation plan, which lists the metropolitan planning organization’s priority projects, in large part because of a lack of state transportation funding.
However, thanks to state legislation passed in April 2011, collaboration between Harris and Montgomery counties and a newly formed coalition, significant steps are being taken to move the project forward.
“There have been several meetings with [Harris County] Commissioner [Jack] Cagle, representatives from Harris County Toll Road Authority and TxDOT, and we’re in the process of beginning negotiations to create a joint effort to construct main lanes from Spring Cypress to FM 1774,” said Craig Doyal, Montgomery Precinct 2 commissioner. “We all want to see the project done.”
Doyal said he plans to has put an item on the Jan. 23 commissioner’s court meeting to get authorization for the Montgomery County Toll Road Authority to begin negotiations with Harris County and TxDOT.
“We are of one mind that the well-managed development of Hwy. 249 is critical to the entire region,” Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said. “Montgomery County’s plans mesh well with our needs to address growth in Harris County and get people into, out of and through the area safely and quickly.”
In April 2011, state legislators passed House Bill 2255 and Senate Bill 1420 to allow TxDOT to enter into public-private partnerships to complete a number of road projects, including Hwy. 249, Hwy. 290 and the Grand Parkway.
Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, who sat on the transportation committee, advocated to include Hwy. 249 on the bill.
“I was not willing to let them take 249 off the bill,” Fletcher said. “It’s such an important corridor and will be an economic driver for the state.”
The legislation does two things. First, it allows TxDOT to take back primacy, or rights to develop, on roads owned by the county—both Hwy. 249 and the Grand Parkway are county-owned roads. Second, it allows TxDOT to enter into public-private partnerships—also called comprehensive development agreements—with a developer to help finance, design, construct, operate and maintain the project.
Through SB 1420, TxDOT stepped up to take primacy of the Grand Parkway, which frees up county funding for Hwy. 249, according to Fletcher.
“I think it’s going to be a compilation of county and state money,” he said. “I’m going to make sure TxDOT helps us where we have a shortfall.”
Private developers might also be sought to make additional investments, according to Fletcher.
After the MCTRA is enabled to begin negotiations with HCTRA, the next step would be to complete traffic and revenue studies to ensure the project is financially viable. Doyal said he expects the project of creating main lanes from Spring Cypress to FM 1774 to cost approximately $250 million to $300 million. Toll fees would provide the counties, and any other investors, with return on their investment with potential to fund extensions on to the west, he said.
While existing plans from TxDOT for Hwy. 249 call for constructing six tolled main lanes, funding will dictate how many lanes will be built, according to Doyal. The segment has already been environmentally cleared by the state, but the report will need to be updated.
Once funding is finalized, the project can get back on H-GAC’s transportation improvement plan, which is updated annually.
“It’s a six to seven month process—it has to get back on the formal plan [for the project] to move forward,” Tomball City Manager George Shackelford said.
Fletcher said he expects the project to be funded this year and construction to start within the next two years.
“I’m totally convinced that we have the right people working on this,” Fletcher said. “I will continue to be a part of the discussion and attend meetings and put my two cents in.”
Coalition and collaboration
More than 70 people attended the first meeting of the Hwy. 249 coalition Nov. 3, including civic, business and government leaders from Houston, Tomball, Magnolia, Navasota and Harris and Montgomery counties, according to Tomball Chamber mobility committee chair John Fishero.
An official name for the coalition, which would broaden the scope beyond the Tomball area, has yet to be determined, though the name Harris-Brazos Valley Partnership has been considered.
“This is more than just a road—it’s about the economic development of the area and tying the whole area together,” Fishero said.
Since the initial meeting, an interim board has been formed with three members from Tomball, Montgomery County and Navasota, including Navasota City Manager Brad Stafford.
“Our interest is that it would be a direct link between northwest Houston and Navasota,” Stafford said. “It would open the city up in two directions—people heading to A&M events and a better connection to the Port [of Houston].”
A long-term goal for the coalition is to see Hwy. 249 connect to Hwy. 6 all the way through Bryan-College Station, according to Fishero.
“There’s a lot of potential for synergy to connect the whole Texas A&M complex and the technology there with resources in the greater Houston area, such as the Port of Houston and Bush Intercontinental Airport,” Fishero said. “We want to get leaders from the entire region involved, because it’s not just about us.”