Commissioners approve developer, plans to begin mid-March

Work is expected to begin next month on two flyovers at the interchange of Hwy. 242 and I-45, a project that was originally approved in 2005 but has since faced a series of delays, mostly because of environmental clearance issues. Montgomery County Commissioners Court approved Williams Brothers as the developer on the project at its Jan. 28 meeting. The approved construction cost for the project is $33.9 million.

Jennie Taraborelli, managing partner with Pate Transportation Partners, the consulting firm hired to work with the county on the project, said the county and the developers will meet in early March to discuss the development of the flyovers.

“We will be ready to go to work right after that,” she said.

Construction on the two overpasses will take about 18 months to complete, Taraborelli said. The Hwy. 242 flyover project was part of a $125 million bond package approved by county voters in 2005 that was the first of its kind in the state. The program, known as “pass-through funding,” allowed counties to pass bonds for approved mobility projects for which they would later be paid back by the state.

“[The program] allows the county to sell bonds at today’s costs and today’s needs, as opposed to waiting,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Craig Doyal.

The pass-through program included six projects: improvements to FM 1485, FM 1488, FM 1714, FM 3083 and the Hwy. 242 direct connect flyovers at I-45. All but the flyovers have been completed.

“The [flyover] project had been delayed because of environmental clearance,” said Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands. “[The project is] really what I would put in the ‘past due’ category.”

The goal of the flyovers is to ease traffic congestion at the I-45/Hwy. 242 intersection.

“Traffic tends to back up at that intersection,” Doyal said. “If we can get people through that intersection, [the flyovers] will alleviate much of that traffic jam.”

According to a traffic study conducted by The Woodlands Development Company, more than 50,000 cars per day travel through the intersection.

“If it’s not the most congested intersection in Montgomery County, it’s one of the most congested,” Williams said.

As a result of the delays, the project saw a substantial increase in costs, as much as 20 percent more than what was originally cited by project engineers, Williams said.

In addition to environmental clearance delays, several other factors have led to the cost increase including recent significant projects being approved by the Texas Department of Transportation, Taraborelli said.

“You are seeing an increase in material costs, tightening of resources in the construction industry and the way this is being constructed, we have a very restricted traffic control plan,” she said.

The project was in danger of either experiencing more delays or being scrapped altogether before local leaders came to its rescue at the end of 2012.

“[Former Montgomery County] Commissioner Ed Chance, along with people managing pass-through tolling explained the problem, and we went to TxDOT to free that project up,” Williams said.

The county will pay for the initial costs and will later be reimbursed by the state over a period of about 10 years based on traffic counts along the new roadway, Taraborelli said.

“It is very likely Montgomery County will get paid back in that 10-year time frame, but not sooner than 10 years,” she said.

Once opened, the flyovers will each be tolled. Taraborelli said the cost of the tolls has yet to be determined.


 
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