Houston City Council to consider extending planned Ellington Bypass in Clear Lake area

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A flurry of activity in the Clear Lake area has made Houston officials quickly consider extending the length of a proposed bypass that would serve the Houston Spaceport and possibly deter unwanted developments.

Ellington Bypass from Space Center Boulevard to Hwy. 3 is a planned main road that has been a part of the city’s Major Thoroughfare and Freeway Plan since 2003. The MTFP is a compilation of anticipated major road projects throughout the city to let developers and the public know what lane widenings, new road construction and other significant transportation projects could be coming.

Before the end of the year the Houston City Council will vote to amend the MTFP to include extending Ellington Bypass’ length. The area designated for inclusion to the MTFP extends from Hwy. 3 to I-45 and runs south of Ellington Airport and north of Clear Lake City Boulevard, Houston Transportation Planning Manager Sharon Moses Burnside said.

Extending the bypass is an important step toward determining the future of the undeveloped and industrial land along this stretch of road in large part because of its proximity to Ellington Airport and the Houston Spaceport the city was approved for in 2015. Amendments to the plan are usually added in January, but an increased sense of urgency surrounding the spaceport and an unwanted proposed development led the Houston Planning Commission to recommend the change now.

Over the summer oil storage and transportation company Magellan Midstream Partners expressed interest in building 58 oil tanks near the intersection of Clear Lake City Boulevard and Hwy. 3 near the proposed Ellington Bypass. The company has since backed away from that plan.

Residents, politicians and business and community leaders expressed alarm about the proposed tanks because of perceived potential safety issues during future hurricanes and flooding. Others worried the tanks would be in the flight path of Ellington Airport landing strips.

For the city and the Houston Airport System concerns revolve around future access to the Houston Spaceport.

The overwhelmingly negative response from the city and constituents spurred Dave Martin, Houston City Council District E member, to action. Martin, who represents the Clear Lake area, has been a visible and vocal proponent of amending the MTFP to include the extended Ellington Bypass.

“Ellington [Bypass] has always been an idea associated with the spaceport,” Martin said. “When I heard Magellan was looking to purchase the land I knew it was necessary to move forward with amending the MTFP to include Ellington [Bypass] as soon as possible.”

The proposed bypass addition bisects the site Magellan was considering for its oil tanks, but extending Ellington Bypass in the plan does not guarantee such unwanted development will not be built in the area.

“Simply adding Ellington [Bypass] to the city of Houston MTFP doesn’t prevent the property from being used for certain activities,” Martin said. “It comes down to the proposed operations of such a facility, how much land is needed and whether operations would be impacted if the road bisected the property.”

The vote, if approved, will be the final step in the process of seeing the segment added to the MTFP, but there are still some limitations to the designation, Martin said. The MTFP has no bearing on scheduling, so construction of any of the thoroughfares in the plan may happen soon or years from now, if they occur at all.

However, for companies like Magellan, the designation can be a deal-breaker because the developer must consider the cost of dedicating the right of way to public use and constructing the road. For the city and the airport extending Ellington Bypass in the plan would be a win, officials said.

“Adding Ellington Bypass to the MTFP reserves the right of way needed in preparation for the planned Houston Spaceport,” Moses Burnside said.

If recent activity surrounding Ellington Airport and Houston Spaceport is any indication the expansion will serve the area well.

Construction at the spaceport is already taking off. A new $12.4 million tower, specially equipped for space flight, is nearing completion. In October the Houston City Council approved spending $18.8 million for infrastructure for Phase 1 of the spaceport, including roads, electrical power, water and more.

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