Harris, Galveston county judges discuss flooding, transportation, economy

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo discusses various problems the county faces at a Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership meeting Oct. 2.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo discusses various problems the county faces at a Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership meeting Oct. 2.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Galveston County Judge Mark Henry met Oct. 2 at the Bay Oaks Country Club to discuss various issues facing both counties.

Hidalgo said Harris County’s No. 1 priority is flood control, particularly after Tropical Storm Imelda. The county has hired an independent firm to figure out how to get drainage projects done faster. Projects originally expected to take 10-15 years are now firmly set at 10, she said.

“We’re moving forward as quickly as we can,” Hidalgo said. “Speed is of the essence here.”

As a county that borders the Gulf of Mexico, Henry said he was concerned about evacuation routes during hurricanes. During Hurricane Rita, more people died trying to evacuate than to the actual storm, Henry said.

To evacuate, Henry said, residents use Hwy. 146, which is under major construction; I-45, which is also under major construction; or Hwy. 6, which has stoplights and results in congestion. The Grand Parkway project would add a much-needed alternative evacuation route, so Henry said he was happy to see the road project back on the Texas Department of Transportation Unified Transportation—a 10-year plan that guides transportation projects—after it was temporarily removed.

As far as the multibillion-dollar coastal barrier project goes, Hidalgo said she believes Harris County cannot simply sit back and hope a hurricane does not move straight up the Houston Ship Channel, which she said would devastate the region will massive flooding. The county is considering interim solutions to help prevent potential catastrophe until the coastal barrier is complete.

Galveston County, Henry said, is also focused on economic development. By being stable, predictable and consistent, businesses are choosing to relocate to and expand in Galveston County, Henry said.

“I think we’ve convinced a lot of industries … that’s the way it is here,” he said, asserting the county's stability.

Tourism is still a major economic factor for the area, Henry said, adding that Galveston County expects to see 7.2 million visitors by the end of the year—200,000 more than 2017.

Hidalgo also discussed how Harris County commissioners recently voted on historic bail bond reform, which would waive bond fees for misdemeanor arrestees. A settlement for the proposal is before a judge, and county officials are hopeful it will be finalized soon, Hidalgo said.

“The idea is to be smarter and be an example for what criminal justice should look like in the county,” she said.

Overall, Hidalgo said the county wants to utilize smart, innovative people to find solutions to the county’s major problems, including flooding and transportation.

“We really need to continue fostering this spirit,” she said. “For the first time, we’re truly putting science first and people first.”
By Jake Magee

Editor, Bay Area & Pearland/Friendswood

Jake has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper. Today, he covers everything from aerospace to transportation to flood mitigation.