Between bikes, buses and highways, Katy area has hands full with transportation challenges

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Living in the Katy area comes with transportation challenges on multiple sides, for commuters, students and other residents. Government officials and advocates are looking for ways to move people from point A to point B faster.

Some say biking could offer relief around recreational areas and farther east to the Energy Corridor. But others, including Andy Meyers, Fort Bend County Precinct 3 commissioner, are more concerned with connections between I-10 and FM 1093.

He said the Grand Parkway’s Cinco Ranch Boulevard intersection and exit is an especially congested spot, with competing traffic from LaCenterra at Cinco Ranch and Cinco Ranch High School. As a result, design work on new frontage roads in the county’s bond package from November is now in the beginning stages.

“My objective is to relieve some of the traffic on [the Grand Parkway]and relieve the traffic on Cinco Ranch Boulevard,” Meyers said.

Looking to the west of Katy, the new Texas Heritage Parkway project is expected to offer hope to drivers and pedestrians alike, with its roundabout design and southbound trail route.

“This will be a pretty unique signature project for this part of the region,” said Richard Muller, a Sugar Land-based attorney working with the parkway partners. “I think everybody’s excited.”

Improving major connectors

Two major upgrades are planned for the Grand Parkway between I-10 and FM 1093.

New southbound frontage roads were approved as part of Fort Bend County’s 2017 mobility bond package for a combined $17.5 million. One will run from 1,000 feet north of Cinco Ranch Boulevard to Westheimer Parkway, and the other will stretch from 1,000 feet above Fry Road to Westpark Tollway/FM 1093.

Meyers said the project will start the design phase in March. That process would take nine to 10 months, with construction lasting between 1 and 1.5 years for each frontage road.

Meyers said he was hoping to piggyback off a planned widening of the Grand Parkway from I-10 to Westpark Tollway/FM 1093 from a four- to six-lane divided highway.

The Texas Department of Transportation said the widening will cost an estimated $118 million and not start until about 2022.

Out farther west, Fort Bend County, the cities of Katy and Fulshear, and multiple landowners are coordinating to build a new four-lane connector between I-10 and FM 1093 for about $48.8 million.

The Texas Heritage Parkway will be unlike any other thoroughfare in the Katy area, or perhaps in the Greater Houston area. Rather than use signalized traffic intersections the 200-foot-wide road will use 10 roundabouts as well as a west-side pedestrian and bike trail and underground pedestrian crossings at each traffic circle, Community Impact Newspaper first reported in August.

“They plan on building some upscale subdivisions out there,” Meyers said of the developers and Fulshear officials who conceived the idea at least a decade ago.

The 6.4-mile parkway is scheduled to begin construction in the fourth quarter of 2018 and finish in 2020.

Muller said the road’s concept was to move traffic more efficiently from FM 1093 to I-10 but not at faster speeds.

“I think it was a desire to be able to get from Fulshear to I-10 in six minutes,” Muller said.

Cane Island Parkway is also under construction to link Hwy. 90 to FM 1463, which Katy Mayor Chuck Brawner said would help drivers from Cane Island and the city’s west side.

Biking potential, obstacles

Some are looking for more solutions to Katy’s congestion than just road improvements.

Gregg Nady, a member and facilitator of biking advocacy nonprofit Bike Houston, said the new Grand Parkway frontage roads at LaCenterra would be a good opportunity to install a 10-foot sidewalk for bikers.

Harris County Precinct 3 and the Willow Fork Drainage District are planning trails around Katy right now, but Nady said jurisdictional boundaries are a challenge. He also said municipalities and special districts may not know which trails would give them the biggest bang for their buck.

“They [Precinct 3] really did a good job in leveraging money and local contributions to supplement what they do.”

Clark Martinson, a former executive director of the Energy Corridor District and the owner of a bike shop in Waller County, said the neighborhoods in Cinco Ranch and along greenways around Katy could help commuters bike to the Energy Corridor.

“I think it’s really an overlooked mode of transportation,” he said.

Martinson predicted new development would spur more trails. However, increasing cycling on roadways would likely require wider shoulders.

Another obstacle to expanding bike networks is land, which Meyers said is getting pricier. A new trail is cheaper than a new road but he and Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said acquiring rights of way through neighborhoods or along commercial properties is not easy. Meyers said the planned trails along Texas Heritage Parkway will be a test case for future residents.

“Unless somebody donates some land to me I’m probably not going to build any hike and bike trails,” Meyers said.

Radack said the county has had difficulties getting cities and special districts to agree to new trails along Buffalo Bayou and other channels. He also said  cities like Houston should take congestion into account if they approve new special districts.

“In other words, city of Houston [municipal utility districts], don’t just go out and create this traffic without mitigating it,” Radack said.

Additional reporting by R. Hans Miller

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