The Texas Department of Transportation spent the month of January painting the final lane stripes in the Cy-Fair area on new Hwy. 290 main lanes that have been added over the course of a seven-year highway widening project, and crews are now shifting focus to the next major mobility project in the Cy-Fair area.

A flyover bridge connecting Hwy. 6 to FM 1960 over Hwy. 290 is slated to be up and open to vehicles by late 2020. Demolition work on an existing Hwy. 6 bridge over Hempstead Road was wrapped up around the end of 2019, and crews have been drilling shafts along Hwy. 6 where columns will be placed to support the eventual bridge, TxDOT officials said.

“This is the last big piece of the puzzle that needs to be finished,” said Hwy. 290 project spokesperson Mike Zientek, speaking at a Dec. 5 meeting of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee. “We’re in the twilight now.”

Several major lane closures went into effect in the fall of 2019, including the closure of Hwy. 6 northbound lanes between Copper Grove Boulevard and Hwy. 290.

Bridge construction was initially set to be finished by the end of 2019, but conflicts in trying to move utility lines caused delays, TxDOT officials said. The delays have created headaches for some area business owners and developers, but at least five new developments or expansions are underway at the intersection as developers said they are aiming to take advantage of what they think will eventually be a booming area.

Peter Barnhart—a partner with Caldwell Companies, the developer behind mixed-use project Cypress Crossing that opened in 2019 at

Hwy. 6 and Hwy. 290—said the construction has created challenges in attracting new tenants in the project’s first year. However, he said hopes are high for the future.

“[Construction] has hurt us as far as the leasing in the center there on FM 1960,” Barnhart said. “The tenants that did sign and did open I think will do even better.”

Need for relief

The Hwy. 6 flyover bridge was proposed by TxDOT as a way to allow traffic to transition between Hwy. 6 and FM 1960 without having to stop at traffic lights. The project is being constructed at a cost of roughly $41.4 million.

TxDOT daily traffic counts indicate the average number of vehicles per day on Hwy. 6 at Hwy. 290 has increased from 46,622 cars in 2014 to 52,911 in 2018.

The portions of Hwy. 6 and FM 1960 at Hwy. 290 were both ranked within the top 100 most congested roadways in Texas in an annual report released by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute in December. The annual cost of congestion—which includes loss of productivity as drivers wait in traffic as well as fuel wasted due to stop-and-go conditions—increased on Hwy. 6 from $30.8 million in 2017 to $32.3 million in 2019 and on FM 1960 from $25.5 million in 2017 to $30.5 million in 2019.

Following the demolition and removal of the former Hwy. 6 bridge over Hempstead Road in late 2019, construction crews began raising columns for the Hwy. 6 bridge south of Hwy. 290 between the eastbound frontage road and Hempstead, TxDOT Public Information Officer Deidrea George said.

North of Hwy. 290, vehicles have been shifted onto new FM 1960 frontage road pavement while crews demolish the old concrete in the middle of the road. Eventually columns will start to be erected on FM 1960 as well, officials said.

Prior to the main bridge’s opening, a shorter one-lane bridge traveling southbound will open along Hwy. 6 that will allow drivers to bypass Hempstead Road and the railroad tracks, George said.

Cy-Fair chamber President Leslie Martone said the project is important for the mobility in the area and encouraged residents to continue to support businesses throughout construction.

In September, TxDOT closed the Hwy. 290 eastbound exit ramp to North Eldridge Parkway due to the anticipated increase in traffic on the Hwy. 290 eastbound frontage road caused by the bridge demolition, a closure initially expected to last 15 months. This caused some concern among local business owners, according to state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, who said he fielded a number of calls from area business owners seeking his help.

Rosenthal said a roundtable meeting was organized with himself, TxDOT engineers and business owners to see if there were any alternative solutions that would not be so detrimental to the businesses. After reassessing the traffic flow, TxDOT’s chief engineer determined traffic was not as heavy as anticipated and the ramp could be reopened, Rosenthal said.

“We made a request, and it was a really positive result,” he said. “It was timely work by the department.”

New development

As construction advances on the flyover bridge, developers have been picking up some of the remaining undeveloped parcels of land in the area and initiating construction on office, industrial and retail projects.

In May, Mississippi-based EastGroup Properties spent $5.7 million on a 20-acre tract on Hwy. 6 at Hempstead Road. Crews are in the process of building a three-building, 275,000-square-foot industrial complex that is expected to be finished around mid-2020.

EastGroup Vice President Kevin Sager said the acquisition follows the company’s broader strategy of investing in areas near major transportation arteries with strong local employment bases.

“The work on Hwy. 290 that has already been done definitely helps the flow of traffic to and from our project,” he said.

Just south of EastGroup’s project, a five-building office project called Copperfield Office Park is under construction at Point NW Boulevard. The commercial real estate and development firm Transwestern is also building an office plaza on Huffmeister Road near Hwy. 6 that will provide eight buildings ranging in space from 3,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet. Three buildings have been completed and ready for interior build-out, while additional buildings are nearing completion officials said.

At Cypress Crossing, Barnhart said a Staybridge Suites hotel will break ground in 2020, and Kelsey-Seybold also opened a standalone medical clinic in November. Interest is also picking up among potential retail tenants, he said.

“I think the worst part of it is really kind of behind us,” he said. “People can see the support and columns and beams going in. Interest has really picked up, and leasing activity has resumed to the pace it should have been before the delay.”

Hwy. 290 update

As of January, work on the main lanes of Hwy. 290 was down to finishing touches on the westbound lanes between North Eldridge Parkway and Mueschke Road, George said. Crews are in the process of implementing Next Generation Concrete—a grooving process that helps reduce noise—and painting the final stripes.

The overall Hwy. 290 project involved widening the highway from three to five lanes between Loop 610 and Hwy. 6, from three to four lanes between Hwy. 6 and the Grand Parkway, and from two to three lanes between the Grand Parkway and the Waller County line.

The Hwy. 290 high-occupancy vehicle lane was extended from Huffmeister Road to Mason Road on

Dec. 16. Operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, the one-lane corridor is reversible, meaning drivers travel inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon.

Speaking at the Dec. 5 chamber meeting, Tabitha Lindley, a METRO public affairs representative, said the long-term vision for the HOV lane is to have it run in both directions.

“Most tollways like the one along Hwy. 290 open in one direction for a while and will reverse,” Lindley said. “METRO is pushing in our METRONext plan to widen that so it’s both ways, so if people live downtown and want to come up here, they can use at other times.”•