Harris County engineer, budget office to present road bond recommendation to commissioners in July, August

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Hufsmith-Kohrville Road expansion

Harris County is considering a potential bond referendum for the November ballot that could fund road expansions similar to the construction currently being done of Hufsmith-Kohrville Road in Precinct 4. (via Matt Stephens)

The Harris County Commissioners Court has asked county officials to prepare recommendations for a bond referendum on the November ballot by late July or early August. The bond could include road and bridge projects in addition to parks, libraries and other capitol improvements.

“I think anybody that drives around Houston knows the need [and]sees the congestion,” County Engineer John Blount said. “And our road and bridge money, we typically don’t [use to]build new roads. We typically widen existing roads, put traffic signals in and things of that nature. That’s what these funds are used for.”

The amount of a potential bond is unknown, but Blount said it would likely be more than the county’s last bond in 2007, which provided $365 million for countywide projects including $190 million for roads and bridges. Blount said funds from the 2007 bond have been exhausted.

Blount said specific projects are not usually identified for Harris County bond referendums, in part due to the county’s ability to quickly get construction underway on roadways.

“If a county commissioner calls me today and says, ‘I want X road widened,’ typically in 18 months I can have construction underway,” he said. “[For] most people it’s five to 10 years. Because of that, we’re able to change or determine what projects we need as the demand happens.”

Although there are some significant projects in the region that could require funding, such as the widening of Kuykendahl and Gosling roads, it is unknown which projects in Precinct 4 could potentially be funded by a bond, said Mark Seegers, communications director for Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle.

“It’s a big bucket of projects in which all of the potential road projects that each of the commissioners have is included,” he said. “There [are]more projects than you can name.”

“I think anybody that drives around Houston knows the need [and]sees the congestion.”
– John Blount, county engineer

County officials said the bond will not result in a property tax increase. Seegers and Blount said the county’s budget office has been tasked with providing a dollar recommendation that would not increase the tax rate.

“The mood is that to pass a bond package, people are going to have to know that the [county]can manage it within whatever their current bond rate is,” Seegers said.

Blount said the bond is necessary to funding road and bridge projects in Harris County to accommodate the countywide growth. The unincorporated population in Harris County grew by 74 percent from 2000-2014 while the county’s road miles has increased 40 percent over that time.

The county has three avenues to fund roads: tolls, bonds or cash, Blount said. However, the county cannot fund existing road improvements through tolls.

“Paying cash would be an admirable thing, except people move in, new houses are built, new roads have to be built and the new roads are needed now, not when there’s enough money to build it with 30 years worth of taxes,” he said. “So the demand occurs almost immediately. That’s why you need bonds.”

In addition to roads, Blount and Seegers said the bond package will likely include funding for parks and for renovations to libraries. It may also include funding for a new veterinary health and pet adoption center and for expansions to some annex buildings for justices of the peace.

Blount and the county’s budget office were asked at a June 23 hearing to bring a bond recommendation back to commissioners court by late July or early August in time for the court to vote on whether to place the bond on the ballot for the upcoming Nov. 3 election.

“That’s a commitment to finding a way to fund what they know is needed,” Seegers said of the court’s request June 23. “It’s not a commitment to the bond yet.”

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