In a 4-0 vote, the Fort Bend County Commissioners approved a joint agreement to construct these direct connectors at the Nov. 26 court meeting. Judge K.P. George was absent.
These connectors are needed “to alleviate traffic congestion and related public safety concerns,” according to the agreement document.
The joint agreement is between Fort Bend County, Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority, Fort Bend Grand Parkway Toll Road Authority and Fort Bend County Assistance Districts Nos. 1 and 9.
Under this agreement, about $10.3 million of sales tax revenue from the county assistance districts and Fort Bend County Emergency Services District No. 100—which entered into an agreement with Fort Bend County in 2011 to help fund road improvements to improve response times—will be contributed toward the total project cost of $46.5 million, per the agreement document.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers stressed during the court meeting that none of the county’s general funds will be used to build the roads. Additionally, these contributions will be made in cash, allowing for additional benefits, such as allowing the westbound connector to be a toll-free road.
“Because we are able to pay in cash [by] utilizing the [sales] tax money to avoid borrowing and interest costs on our direct connect, we can guarantee that our westbound to northbound direct connect[ors] will be free and will not be tolled,” Meyers said. “This results in further savings on construction and a free route to motorists that keeps them away from the merge problems that currently exist at grade."
The toll road authorities will contribute the remaining $36.2 million for the project and oversee its design and construction, per the agreement document.
Design plans for the direct connectors include constructing one lane with shoulders, Mike Stone of Mike Stone Associates Inc. and of the FBCTRA said in an email in October. Construction is expected to begin in 2020 and will last about 30 months.
Under the existing configuration, west- and eastbound traffic on the Westpark Tollway must exit onto FM 1093 and drive about one mile before merging onto Grand Parkway.
Grand Parkway is overseen by the Texas Department of Transportation, and work on the connectors will coincide with the department’s own improvement work on the state highway, Meyers said.
TxDOT has begun designing a project to widen the Grand Parkway between FM 1093 and I-10 with additional lanes, ramp reversals and new traffic patterns, Meyers said.
“The goal for everyone is to have the Toll Road Authority open up these direct connect[ors] simultaneously with TxDOT opening the [Grand Parkway] northbound expansion,” Meyers said. “These flyovers will not be opened until TxDOT gives the word that their [Grand Parkway] main lane improvements are ready.”
According to the TxDOT project tracker website, the project to widen the Grand Parkway between FM 1093 and I-10 will cost about $50.1 million. A representative from TxDOT was not immediately available to provide additional information.
TxDOT and Fort Bend County are also working together to construct southbound frontage roads on the west side of the Grand Parkway between Cinco Ranch Boulevard and Westheimer Parkway and between South Fry Road and FM 1093. This project is estimated to cost about $24 million and will be funded by a 2017 Fort Bend County voter-approved bond.