Tollway projects near completion

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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 said segments F-1 and F-2—24 miles of tolled roadway from Hwy. 290 to I-45—are on target to be complete by the end of 2015. However, portions of Segment G, the stretch between I-45 and Hwy. 59, is projected to be complete in early 2016, said David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Association, the nonprofit formed by the Texas Department of Transportation to facilitate the roadway’s development.

“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 expected by early 2016, 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 northwest Harris County when heading to The Woodlands or Katy, Gornet said. Drivers should get from Hwy. 249Tollway projects nears completion 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.”

Tollway projects nears completion

Deadline challenges

Although TxDOT is on target to complete the project by the original deadline for segments F-1 and F-2, construction has not been without its challenges. Heavy rains have slowed construction progress along segment F-2, especially along the underpass at FM 2920, Gornet said.   

“[In October and November], we had rain that flooded the hole [underneath FM 2920],” Gornet said. “After heavy rain, the workers have to pump it out and flush the silt. It slows them down from getting to the other work.”

Land acquisition has also been an obstacle as some property owners with tracts in the planned Grand Parkway route have been reluctant to settle on a price for their land, Gornet said.

“Buying right of way took more time [than originally thought],” 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.”

[polldaddy poll=9221956]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 involve building sound barriers along the tollway. Communities are selected for a potential sound barrier after TxDOT completes a sound analysis for any projects that adds capacity to the road. Property owners who live adjacent to a potential sound barrier must approve the measure.

Fifteen sound barriers have been approved and are under construction along the three segments, TxDOT officials said. Communities in the Spring area, such as Gleannloch Farms, Inverness Estates and Northgate Crossing, will receive the sound mitigation devices. Only two sound wall proposals were rejected as the Forest North and Mossy Oaks South communities voted against the measure.

Developer interest

Even though all of the new Grand Parkway segments will not be open to drivers until early 2016, developers are capitalizing on the traffic the tollway 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.”

In Spring, the developer of master-planned community Springwoods Village, Coventry Development Corporation, has gauged the dynamics of the growth the Grand Parkway is expected to generate.

Proximity to the Grand Parkway helped CDC attract oil and gas companies, such as ExxonMobil and Southwestern Energy, which both completed their corporate campuses in the past year. Corporations in the hospitality and health care industries have also been attracted to Springwoods Village, CDC Executive Director Keith Simon said.

Within the master-planned community, a 128-room Residence Inn opened in November while a Courtyard by Marriott is under construction next to it.  Springwoods Village is expected to have five hotels by build-out, Simon said.

CHI St. Luke’s Health, which coveted land near the Holzwarth Road interchange, Simon said, will open the first phase of its medical complex in January.

“The confirmation of approval and financing for the Grand Parkway was a key requirement for ExxonMobil to go forward with [its]campus,” Simon said. “It has also been a strong mobility and access criterion for every other commercial user in Springwoods Village, none more so than CHI St. Luke’s, whose location right on the Grand Parkway at the Holzwarth Road interchange gives them a key strategic advantage.”

Just east of Springwoods Village, near the intersection of the Hardy Toll and Riley Fuzzel roads, Halberdier Real Estate has plans to develop about 60 acres into two separate mixed-use projects, founder Trey Halberdier said.

“The ability to get around the northwest side of town is going to change dramatically. It will allow people more flexibility with where they can work and where they can choose to live.”

—David Gornet, president of the Grand Parkway Association

A 40-acre parcel will become the Hardy North Business Park—a 40,000-square-foot industrial office building with pad sites, Halberdier said. The company also plans to develop 14 acres of land along Riley Fuzzel Road into a 100,000-square-foot medical and retail building with pad sites available for educational or office use. Halberdier said the company plans to break ground on both projects within six months.

Farther south on Hardy Toll Road near the Northgate Crossing community, the company also has a 288,000-square-foot office building planned on a 5-acre piece of land.

“We’ve seen a decline in office net absorption, but we also feel that retail is strong right now,” Halberdier said. “We have a void to fill, a pent-up demand right there at the interchange [of Riley Fuzzel Road and the Grand Parkway].”

Next steps

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 additional access points to the tollway could be challenging, but TxDOT will consider constructing new access points to the Grand Parkway if traffic volumes dictate the need for 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.”

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Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.
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