Montgomery County has approved plans for a two-lane expansion of Rayford Road and the addition of a bridge to bypass the Union Pacific railroad tracks that intersect Rayford Road. However, funding for the project still has not been secured.

County officials approved a contract with the Houston based engineering firm Klotz and Associates Oct. 6. The contract is for engineering work on the Rayford Road expansion from four to six lanes from the Union Pacific railroad tracks to Riley Fuzzell Road, and the bridge addition, according to a statement from Montgomery County Precinct 3.

The expansion is part of a number of mobility improvement that the county is considering for a possible May 2015 road bond election, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said. The projects stem from the Houston-Galveston Area Council's South County Mobility Study, which was revealed in September.

The $40 million to $60 million Rayford Road expansion is a priority for south Montgomery County, Noack said, but the decision to fund the project will be left to voters. Completion of the project could take up to two years should a road bond pass.

With thousands of homes and several commercial tracts under development in the Rayford Road area east of I-45, combined with the demand of the ExxonMobil campus and the Grand Parkway, Noack said the expansion is a critical mobility need in south Montgomery County.

While the project design has not been finalized, Ahmed Jasserally, owner of Cypress Station Car Wash and Lube at 655 Rayford Road, said he and neighboring business owners are concerned about the proposed bridge over the train tracks—which he said would lead to cars bypassing businesses along the intersection.

"We just opened a $4 million [car wash] four months ago," Jasserally said. "We spent $4 million of revenue, and property taxes and sales taxes are going to be affected. We [the area business owners] all have bank loans; we all have personal guarantees on leases."

Noack said he and staff have talked to business owners who have contacted his office and are working with the engineers to address some of the concerns.

"We are certainly going to take their concerns and ideas, and where we can, incorporate it into the project," Noack said. "On the flip side, we have very limited options and some business owners will be impacted by this. We will do our best to make certain that the impacts are primarily beneficial. I would urge the business owners to understand that this is not just about their particular business; this is something for the community as a whole."

The Rayford Road and Riley Fuzzell corridor regularly see traffic congestion during peak hours, said Paul Cote, president of the Rayford Road Civic Association.

"All of Rayford Road from I-45 to Riley Fuzzell, then on Riley Fuzzell from the Spring Creek bridge all the way up to Birnham Woods—there is heavy traffic on those corridors," Cote said.

While Noack said that no official date or bond amount has been approved by the county commissioners court, he estimates Precinct 3's needs may total between $100 million to $150 million in road improvement projects.

"We certainly need to improve and enhance mobility throughout the county, and this certainly would be a big step in doing that," Noack said.

Short-term plans focus on Town Center, Rayford Road

By Brian Walzel

For more than a year, all of the organizations and government entities that oversee transportation and mobility projects in south Montgomery County met each month to devise a plan to fix the traffic issues the area is experiencing. The results of that study were revealed to the public in September.

Representatives from The Woodlands Township, the cities of Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah, Montgomery County Precinct 3, The Woodlands Road Utility District No. 1, Harris County Precinct 4, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Houston-Galveston Area Council have created a list of $1.6 billion worth of proposed transportation improvements throughout south Montgomery County designed to improve mobility.

The study was led by H-GAC's Metropolitan Planning Organization and focused on an area from FM 2978 on the west side to the San Jacinto River to the east, from a northern boundary of FM 1488 south to the Grand Parkway. The study's boundaries lie within the cities of Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah, The Woodlands Township, Montgomery County Precinct 3, and parts of Montgomery County Precinct 2 and Harris County Precinct 4.

"One of the things we could do a better job of is planning," said James Noack, Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner. "This was the first time we brought in TxDOT, Harris County, The Woodlands, Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah. It was the first time anybody sat down in the same room with the goal of putting in a short-term and long-term plan together."

The study was divided into two components: short-term needs and long-term needs. The cost of the short-term projects, which includes design studies, is $364 million, while long-term projects are estimated at $1.23 billion.

"The goal of the short-term projects was to identify where [funding entities] can make improvements in relatively a short amount of time, not years down the road—things that could be done in the next two to three years," said Carlene Mullins, H-GAC transportation planner.

Mullins said the primary areas of focus for short-term mobility improvements were areas along Rayford Road east of I-45, and throughout The Woodlands Town Center.

"Rayford Road was [an area of focus] because of the congestion and safety issues," she said. "It is one of the most congested roads in the area, and there is a safety issue there with the railroad tracks. Fire trucks can't get through, and there are a lot of accidents on that road because of that middle lane. And Grand Parkway is coming online, and there is going to be an even higher demand to get to Grand Parkway using that route."

Mullins and Chief Transportation Planner Thomas Gray said continual development in Town Center, especially with the workers and residents expected to occupy Hughes Landing, resulted in short-term projects targeted for that area.

Noack said many of the short-term projects are already being addressed and targeted for funding by the county or through funding partnerships with entities such as The Woodlands Road Utility District. Montgomery County will likely seek voter approval in May for a bond somewhere in the $400 million range, Noack said.

"A lot of the projects on the short-term plan are either underway, or will be under the bond election," he said. "The majority of the short-term needs will be addressed if this bond passes. This [bond] should have wide appeal to the south [Montgomery] County voter."

Noack said Precinct 3 could see about $150 million of the approximate $400 million of the total bond package.

Among the projects on the short-term needs plan that could be funded through bond money include widening the bridge from two lanes to four at Gosling Road over Spring Creek, an overpass on Rayford Road over the Union Pacific railroad, widening Rayford Road to six lanes and widening Lake Woodlands Drive from four lanes to six lanes from I-45 to Lake Front Circle.

Noack said any potential bond money should be distributed to the precincts with the most need, rather than equally among the four precincts.

"The days are gone of splitting bond money equally," he said. "Most of the needs are in south Montgomery County."