Visions of a third outer loop around the Greater Houston area will soon be one substantial step closer to becoming a reality.
Grand Parkway officials say segments F-1, F-2 and G of the project—38 miles of tolled roadway from Hwy. 290 to Hwy. 59—are on target to be complete by the end of 2015. Construction is being overseen by the Texas Department of Transportation.
“Assuming the weather stays good, we ought to be able to set a target date relatively soon,” said George Grantham, TxDOT’s project manager for the three segments. “It would be unrealistic to think all 38 miles would be completed precisely at the same time, but we expect to have traffic on all three segments around the end of the year.”
The full project consists of 11 segments spanning 184 miles. With the completion of the next three segments, 71 miles will be open to drivers, connecting Hwy. 59 South to Hwy. 59 North around the Northwest Houston region.
The completion of the parkway is widely expected to make travel easier for people who live in Cypress when traveling to The Woodlands or Katy, said David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Association, the nonprofit formed by TxDOT to facilitate the roadway’s development. Drivers should be able to get from Hwy. 249 to I-45 North in 10 minutes, and from I-10 West to I-45 North in 35 minutes, Gornet said.
“The ability to get around the northwest side of town is going to change dramatically,” he said. “It will allow people more flexibility with where they can work and where they can choose to live.”
Meeting the deadline
Although TxDOT is on target to complete the project by the original deadline, construction has not been without its challenges. Some property owners, with tracts in the planned Grand Parkway route, have been hesitant to settle on a price for their land, Gornet said.
“Buying right of way took more time,” he said. “Some folks on the bigger tracts were concerned they weren’t getting proper returns and got attorneys involved. They signed off on possession and use agreements, which let [TxDOT] build the road but gives them the right to argue about the payments later.”
With more than 430 parcels of right of way to acquire, Grantham said meeting the original three-year deadline is unprecedented in the industry.
Part of the finishing touches involved building a 12-foot-tall concrete sound wall from Cypresswood Drive to Cumberland Ridge Drive to mitigate noise near the Fairfield master-planned community. A modeling system used to predict the average noise level determined the noise generated by the toll road would exceed the acceptable threshold set by TxDOT.
No other sound walls are planned between Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 249, Gornet said.
“Some folks were not happy with a road being built near their homes, so in some cases we adjusted the alignment away from existing communities, minimizing the impacts to those areas as much as possible,” he said.
Even though the newest Grand Parkway segments will not be open to drivers until the end of the year, developers are capitalizing on the traffic it is expected to generate.
“We are receiving an influx of communications from prospective developers asking questions about when the road will be completed,” Grantham said. “There are some very recognizable names.”
Grantham could not specify what developers were interested, but said they run the gamut in terms of development types.
In Cypress, developers with master-planned communities, such as Fairfield and Bridgeland, are gauging the dynamics of the growth the Grand Parkway is expected to generate, focusing on access to and from Fry Road.
Officials with Howard Hughes Corporation, the development firm guiding plans at Bridgeland, said the parkway has created interest among prospective homeowners and commercial tenants interested in retail space.
“Bridgeland has four fully completed overpasses and intersections built on the Grand Parkway,” said Peter Houghton said, vice president of master-planned communities with Howard Hughes.
“They will be critical locations for commercial and retail tenants given the lack of feeder roads on much of the parkway.”
Industry leaders have found the connectivity the Grand Parkway provides appealing as well. Daikin Industries is one company that has already set plans in motion on a $417 million facility on a 497-acre campus a few miles west of the parkway. Goodman Manufacturing, a subsidiary of Daikin, will use the campus to design and build heating and air conditioning units with plans to eventually employ more than 4,000 people at the site.
Officials with Goodman have described the Grand Parkway as a game changer in the area, noting the mobility benefits outweighed benefits other locations offered in terms of tax incentives.
Leslie Martone, president of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce, said at a chamber mobility forum that the value the Grand Parkway adds is impossible to measure.
“Mobility is vital to any community, and the Grand Parkway is unquestionably fueling our growth,” she said.
Harris County officials asked TxDOT to take the county’s Regional Thoroughfare Plan into account when constructing the Grand Parkway, accommodating for roads that may eventually cross its path. Certain parts of the roadway were built to eventually accommodate new access points, including at the Hwy. 249 intersection, Gornet said.
Adding an overpass at Mason Road in Cypress would not be a significant change, but adding access points would be more difficult, he said.
“You have to go through the Federal Highway Administration to get quality issues addressed to add access roads that some argue could change air quality,” Gornet said. “You need to model all that, and that costs money. TxDOT didn’t want to put ramps to a road that didn’t exist.”
However, if traffic volumes dictate eventually adding certain access points, TxDOT will look into ways to facilitate building them, Grantham said.
“We predicted future demand as best we could to accommodate every need we could identify, but as the roadway opens up, we may see some future ramps or connections,” he said. “As the need and funding becomes available, TxDOT will be there to assist in the environmental approval process and in making sure everything is appropriately connected to the Grand Parkway.”