Dozens of Houstonians gathered at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Montrose on Jan. 23 to learn about proposed plans for $55 million in improvements along a stretch of Montrose Boulevard where development is booming.

The project involves making road, sidewalk and drainage improvements along a 2-mile stretch of Montrose Boulevard from Allen Parkway to I-69. Lane and sidewalk configurations differ across three distinct segments of the project, but plans largely focus on widening sidewalks, improving safety and making the road more accessible to all user types.

The project is being taken on and funded by the Montrose Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which brought on Gauge Engineering to take on the design work.

Attendees were able to browse posters with project details and speak to representatives working on the project's design. They could also place notes on project maps with comments or suggestions.

In addition, the TIRZ has been taking comments online since project details were first presented in December.

Public comments covered a variety of issues, including people looking for more details about landscaping and tree preservation, the need for more public bicycle parking, and requests for the TIRZ to work with local artists to incorporate public art into the design.

Some commenters wanted to know why the segment from Allen Parkway to West Clay Street was being worked on first. In a written response, TIRZ officials said the project must start downstream of the storm sewer system at Allen Parkway and work upstream. West Clay Street was set as the limit after parents of children at the nearby Wharton Elementary School requested it.

Dougie Steinbach—who lives in the Upper Kirby area but said he goes for runs that can lead him down Montrose Boulevard—said he liked the overall plans but came to the meeting to try to get more clarity on some details, including the possibility of adding raised crosswalks to slow down cars when turning off Montrose Boulevard.

Steinbach said the addition of medians will help him feel safer when running.

"I used to run across Montrose, ... and without a median, five lanes just north of Richmond is a little scary when people are going fast," he said at the Jan. 23 meeting. "Overall I like it."

Tommy Back, who lives in the Montrose area, said he felt the project was long overdue.

"Once people can rely on buses and public transit, I'm hoping it causes a movement and mind-shift change that can really change the city for the better," he said.

Glen Telge and Jim Binford—two longtime stewards of the Magnolia Cemetery on the west side of Montrose Boulevard south of Allen Parkway—said they were excited about the project and have appreciated the engagement from the TIRZ so far. Telge said he was initially concerned about whether the project would encroach on their land.

The cemetery, a Texas State Historical Cemetery founded in 1884, has about 900 feet of frontage road space along Montrose Boulevard, making it potentially the longest border along the project.

"We were relieved to see there was not going to be any talk of [encroachment]," said Telge, who said his family has been with the cemetery since the 1920s. "We know there are going to be growing pains—something that happens with us that they don't like or maybe something that they do that we don't like—but you have to talk about that."

Since the December presentation, some small modifications have been made to the plan. Plans for the sidewalk on the west side of Montrose between Westheimer Road and Dallas Street were tweaked from one 10-foot sidewalk to two 6-foot walkways separated by a 6-foot planting space for trees.

The estimated construction cost also increased from $52 million to $55 million.

Design work is underway on the first segment of the project—from Allen Parkway to West Clay Street—and is expected to last through October. Construction will begin in winter 2024 and run through winter 2025.

The timeline for the next segment, from West Clay to I-69, is to be determined.

More information can be found on the TIRZ's website, and comments can be emailed to [email protected] by the end of January.