Work on Phase 1 of the FM 1093 frontage road and Westpark Tollway extension project began in February and is expected to continue through the end of 2017. As construction progresses, many safety issues have arisen causing county officials to encourage drivers along the corridor to find another route and also follow numerous safety tips.
“If there is another route to your home or your job, try to avoid [the construction area],” said Stacy Slawinski, an engineer with Fort Bend County. “In a perfect world, we could work 24 hours a day and get it done as soon as possible. Drivers need to be careful; there are a lot of workers out there.”
The project is expected to relieve congestion and enhance safety for the growing population that lives along FM 1093, which has seen thousands of homes constructed and numerous commercial developments sprout in the past 10 years, said Andy Meyers, Fort Bend County Precinct 3 commissioner.
Meyers said he and other public officials saw a need for widening FM 1093 and extending the Westpark Tollway more than a decade ago.
“Ten years ago, I recognized FM 1093 was going to be a very congested road; it was only two lanes,” Meyers said. “The county was approving housing developments in the area, and with a lot of houses and a lot of cars, we knew traffic would be an issue.”
The two-phase project has a total cost of $160 million and is funded jointly by the Texas Department of Transportation, Fort Bend County and the Fort Bend Toll Road Authority.
Meyers said the project to widen the more than 100-year-old FM 1093 and extend the toll road began to gain steam well before the Westpark Tollway opened in 2007.
“Once it was obvious that we were going to build an alternate route into Houston other than I-10, developers came out and began to buy land,” he said. “It was obvious to us how many homes would be built over 10 to 15 years. It’s probably the fastest-growing area in the whole state.”
Meyers said the project has been delayed due to a variety of issues, including initial problems with officials from the Federal Highway Administration.
Because a federal project requires an environmental impact study—usually a six-year process—Meyers said officials turned to TxDOT because FM 1093 is a state road. State roads require a less-time consuming environmental assessment, which allowed construction to begin more quickly, Meyers said.
Fort Bend County entered into a toll equity agreement with TxDOT to fund the project. Of the $160 million cost, TxDOT is providing $40 million, and the county is paying $120 million, Meyers said.
Phase 2 of the project, which has not been officially finalized, involves extending the two two-lane frontage roads from Cross Creek Ranch west to James Lane, Meyers said. There are no current plans to extend the Westpark Tollway past Cross Creek Ranch, he said.
“I don’t know what Fulshear’s desires are,” he said. “Some of the city fathers have expressed concern about having a toll road through the city.”
Meyers said the project is four years behind schedule due to various delays.
“I’m just trying to build a road, to widen a road,” he said. “It’s a simple process that has taken eight years. It is very frustrating.”
Richard Stolleis, an engineer with Fort Bend County who is heading the project, said Phase 1 will create four lanes of frontage road—two lanes each for eastbound and westbound traffic—from the existing end point of the Westpark Tollway to the entrance of Cross Creek Ranch.
Phase 1 also includes extending the Westpark Tollway 2.3 miles westward from its existing endpoint to the intersection of Spring Green Boulevard. The tollway will be four lanes—two lanes in both westbound and eastbound directions—with overpasses and Texas U-turns constructed at the intersection of Katy-Gaston Road and Spring Green Boulevard.
“The entire Phase 1 [segment] is about 4 miles long, but about 2.4 miles of it is toll lanes and frontage road,” Stolleis said. “The remainder of the project—1.6 miles—is frontage road only.”
Stolleis said the Phase 1 frontage roads are set to be completed by the end of August. The project has led to traffic delays from Spring Green Boulevard to the Grand Parkway as workers have narrowed lanes and installed concrete barriers.
“We should have traffic [able to travel] on the eastbound [frontage road] lanes by October,” he said.
Safety a concern
Maj. Chad Norvell of the Fort Bend County sheriff’s office said law enforcement officials have been concerned about safety issues in the construction zone since work began earlier this year.
“It is always congested and very busy. The hot spot we tend to get a lot of accidents is at Katy-Gaston Road [intersection with FM 1093], eastbound in the morning and westbound at night,” Norvell said. “[Drivers] following too closely and not paying attention—rear-end type of accidents.”
Norvell said law enforcement officials are encouraging drivers to avoid the construction zone.
“People are going to have to allow themselves extra time for the next couple of years,” he said.
Potential problems for drivers include being distracted by cellphones, eating food or staring at the construction process, he said. The presence of heavy trucks, machinery and construction workers are also problems for drivers.
Drivers making u-turns and merging to an adjacent lane suddenly at the end of the Westpark Tollway are also activities that could lead to crashes, Norvell said.
“We certainly don’t want [drivers] doing [U-turns] at the end of the Westpark Tollway,” he said.
Meyers said that the project is going to be a victory for local officials and also a welcome relief for area residents who have been battling congestion for years.
“I’ve been working on this project [for] 10 years. It’s the biggest project I’ve worked on, and it’s also one of the most frustrating,” Meyers said. “I’m going to be happy [when it is done], but I’m not going to be as happy as the people who live there.”