Construction on the Northpark Drive overpass project in Kingwood is set to begin following an April 13 groundbreaking ceremony for the long-awaited project that was first proposed in 2015.

The roughly $76.2 million project will expand Northpark Drive from four to six lanes between Hwy. 59 and Russell Palmer Road and add an overpass over the Union Pacific Corp. railroad tracks and Loop 494. It is projected to enter the first phase of construction April 23, according to officials with the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority, which is funded by Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 10.

Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin—who represents the city of Houston’s District E, which includes Kingwood—said the project aims to alleviate congestion, enhance accessibility and increase safety in the Kingwood area.

“The biggest complaint we have in Kingwood ... is traffic congestion,” Martin said during a February TIRZ 10 board meeting. “We have basically two ways in and out of Kingwood going east and west, and that’s Northpark [Drive] and Kingwood Drive. ... It’s really critical for us to get this thing nailed down and make sure that ... disruption is minimized.”

According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2022 Most Congested Roadways in Texas report released in April, Northpark Drive ranked as the 114th most-congested roadway out of more than 1,800 roads analyzed in the state. On average, more than 31,000 vehicles traverse the road every day, the report states.

While LHRA and city of Houston officials have maintained the project is necessary to alleviate traffic and safety issues on the roadway, some area leaders have expressed concern over the effect the project’s estimated 30-month construction period could have on local businesses.

Project benefits

The Northpark Drive overpass project was initially estimated to cost around $52 million. However, officials said that number has since been pushed to roughly $76.2 million due to supply chain issues and inflation. The city will contribute roughly $9.5 million toward the project with TIRZ 10 picking up the remainder of the bill, budget documents show.

Ralph De Leon, LHRA and TIRZ 10 administrator, noted several project benefits, including decreased travel times and congestion on the roadway, increased drainage capacity, improved pedestrian walkways, and new irrigation and landscaping.

During a February 2020 LHRA public meeting, more than a dozen residents submitted concerns about the potential for additional flooding resulting from the project. According to the Harris County Flood Control District, Kingwood received a four-day total of around 30 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which affected several neighborhoods near Northpark Drive.

LHRA planning documents for the project show the existing drainage ditch along Northpark Drive will be replaced with a storm sewer system that will be adjusted throughout construction until an optimal solution is reached. Additionally, landscaped detention ponds will be constructed on both sides of Northpark Drive near Hwy. 59.

“Upon completion, planned stormwater system improvements will not just result in no impact to existing conditions, but [they will] also result in an improvement to existing conditions,” De Leon said, noting the project would elevate Northpark Drive above the 500-year flood plain.

De Leon said the planned overpass over the Union Pacific Corp. railroad tracks and Loop 494 will also provide an additional evacuation route in the case of a future flooding event.

Project timeline

Once construction begins, De Leon said the project is expected to take about 30 months to complete and will be broken up into three phases.

The first two phases include the installation of the drainage infrastructure and the widening of Northpark Drive from four to six lanes between Loop 494 and Russell Palmer Road. The third phase—which is expected to begin in February 2025—will construct the overpass bridge and a westbound and eastbound frontage road lane on each side of the overpass. Phase 3 will also widen the remainder of Northpark Drive between the bridge and Hwy. 59.

Economic concerns

Stephanie Wiggins, chief economic development officer for Partnership Lake Houston, said she believes transportation and roadway improvements are key for economic growth.

“In theory, road improvement decreases transportation costs for goods and people, improves access to markets, stimulates competition and offers other wider economic benefits,” she said.

However, Wiggins said large-scale transportation projects can also have unintended consequences.

“There is always concern of the overall effect of construction on small businesses and retail, which this particular area is mostly composed of,” Wiggins said. “I do believe this construction will temporarily halt new retail or even a small business from locating in this corridor until after construction is complete.”

In an April news release, Martin said efforts will be made to minimize any impact construction might have on local businesses.

“Two-way traffic will be maintained at all times, [and] businesses and residents will have access to driveways and sidewalks at all times,” Martin said.

Additionally, De Leon said the planned frontage road lanes along each side of the overpass bridge will ensure residents can easily access businesses near the bridge.

Despite her concerns, Wiggins said she believes the project will be worth any short-term issues.

“I believe this project’s benefits far outweigh the negative,” Wiggins said. “If the [construction] timelines are in place and the scope of the project can adequately be delivered, some businesses will not be deterred by the new construction.”