“In terms of congestion relief, [the Grand Parkway] has accomplished exactly what everyone hoped that it would,” said Marlissa Briggs, executive director of the North Houston Association.
The new tollway segments have also brought in significantly more toll revenue to the state. The Grand Parkway received $53.4 million more in toll revenue during fiscal year 2015-16 than the previous fiscal year—largely due to the opening of segments F-1, F-2 and G—according to an annual report from the Grand Parkway Transportation Corporation.
By the end of FY 2015-16, drivers had paid $83.9 million in tolls across the length of the Grand Parkway.
Due to the number of cars traveling on the Grand Parkway, local officials agree it has not only improved existing mobility but will shape future road projects surrounding it. In addition to road projects scheduled for construction in Harris County precincts 3 and 4, direct connectors at Hwy. 249 are also on the horizon, officials said.
Traffic on the toll road’s segments has increased since opening in the first quarter of 2016, said Jeff Collins, vice chairman of Transportation Advocacy Group in Houston. He said it is not surprising that traffic numbers have exceeded initial projections since Katy, The Woodlands and Cypress are all growing hubs connected by the Grand Parkway.
“Better mobility contributes to growth, so local roads get busier as development occurs,” he said. “We have to ensure we have good access from and to the Grand Parkway.”
The Texas Department of Transportation has not yet released 2016 traffic counts for roadways near the Grand Parkway like Hwy. 249. However, local officials said traffic has noticeably decreased on major corridors in Cy-Fair.
“[The Grand Parkway is] a true game-changer in terms of how quickly people can get to places,” said Mark Seegers, communications director for Harris County Precinct 4. “From the eye test perspective, there’s no question that the need is there when you look at how heavily traveled that is.”
Seegers said travel times have decreased heading from Hwy. 249 to Hwy. 290 since the Grand Parkway opened, shedding 15-20 minutes off the trip.
“For the people that are heading to the major corridors, it gives them options that [do not] slow everybody else down,” he said.
However, Seegers said an average of 80,000 people are still moving to Harris County each year. As a result, several roads close to the Grand Parkway are undergoing improvements to keep up with future growth.
Harris County Precinct 3 is working on a pair of projects to widen Mueschke and Cypress Rosehill roads for a total cost of $17.3 million, Manager of Engineering Randy Schilhab said. Precinct 4 will move into the design phase this year on a $29.6 million Telge Road project that will widen the road from a two-lane asphalt roadway to a four-lane concrete boulevard between Spring Cypress Road and FM 2920.
“Growth within Precinct 4 has necessitated the need to upgrade Precinct 4’s two-lane asphalt rural roadways to improve mobility and mitigate congestion,” said Pamela Rocchi, Precinct 4 capital improvement projects director.
As the volume of traffic grows on the Grand Parkway, TxDOT officials said eight direct connectors between Hwy. 249 and the Grand Parkway are slated for a 2021 opening date. TxDOT officials said the agency is working with the Harris County Toll Road Authority to find the funds for the direct connectors.
“Taking into account the design effort, construction could begin [in] summer 2019, with the [direct] connectors opening to traffic in summer 2021,” said Raquelle Lewis, TxDOT public information manager for the Houston district, in a statement.
In addition to improving mobility, the Grand Parkway has helped improve connectivity between residents and their communities, Briggs said.
“It allows a lot of the major business centers and communities to feel much closer,” she said. “It seems to make us more efficient.”
Additionally, Briggs said the Grand Parkway has attracted more through traffic, or drivers traveling through an area without stopping, therefore improving safety on lower-capacity roadways and giving local roads a longer lifetime.
“That, of course, will help us as a region save on the wear and tear on our roads that were not intended to have high traffic counts,” she said.
Seegers said the county does not have data on how traffic levels have changed on specific Cy-Fair roads—such as Mueschke, Telge and Cypress Rosehill roads—noting that it takes longer to compile.
As required by an agreement between TxDOT and the seven counties through which the Grand Parkway will pass, toll prices along the Grand Parkway increased Jan. 1.
According to TxDOT officials, toll prices will continue to increase
2 percent or in accordance with the regional consumer price index—whichever is greater—next year to keep up with the increasing costs to maintain and build new roads.
Along segments F-1, F-2 and G, toll prices increased between 1 and 4 cents from 2016 to 2017 for two-axle vehicles, according to TxDOT.
More than 68.5 million transactions—which are recorded each time a vehicle passes through a toll facility, plaza or ramp—were made in total along the Grand Parkway in FY 2015-16, according to a year-end report from TxDOT.
Additionally, TxDOT received about $31.2 million more in toll revenue than anticipated in FY 2015-16—the first year in which toll revenue was collected for segments F-1, F-2 and G.
Once the project’s $1.2 billion financing is paid off, additional toll revenue will pay for maintenance and operations of the tollway, and Collins said there would be no extraneous funds anytime soon.
Collins said he believes the convenience of the Grand Parkway outweighs the cost of a toll.
“We are lucky in our area to have many choices as we decide the best route to get to our planned destinations,” Collins said. “I find that most people are willing to pay tolls for the ability to schedule with some certainty how long the trip will take. I know I will drive a little out of the way to get to where I am going if I can avoid congestion and maintain good speed.”
While construction could begin on the direct connectors with Hwy. 249 in 2019, construction should begin by early 2018 on Grand Parkway segments H and I-1, which will connect the toll road from Hwy. 9 North to I-10 East, according to TxDOT.
Collins said TAG continues to advocate for adequate transportation funding in Houston. Although Cy-Fair’s next major mobility project, Hwy. 290, should be completed in 2018, TAG is already planning to advocate for commuter rail along Hwy. 290 as well as for Texas Central Partners’ high-speed rail project from Houston to Dallas, Collins said.
“Infrastructure is underfunded in the United States, and we have to get back to basics to be able to adequately handle the continued growth that will come our way over the next 30 years,” Collins said.
Andrea French, executive director of TAG, said the organization is pushing local option transportation funding at both the state and local levels.