At its Sept. 25 meeting, Houston City Council unanimously approved the LHRA’s 2019-23 capital improvement plan, which includes funding for 15 intersection improvements and road projects totaling $103.68 million. Of the total CIP, $86.17 million is allocated to widening Northpark Drive, which is a four-lane divided roadway.
LHRA oversees the property tax revenue collected within Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 10, which was created by the city of Houston in 1997 to spur development in Kingwood, LHRA and TIRZ administrator Ralph De Leon said. The LHRA uses this funding to complete transportation and other public infrastructure projects in Kingwood.
De Leon said Northpark Drive is one of the roads in Kingwood that was built when the area was first developed and roads were less busy; however, this is no longer the case.
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2018 list of the state’s most congested roadways, the stretch of Northpark Drive from Sorters Road to Mills Branch Drive is the 148th most congested road in the state, with drivers experiencing 138,026 hours of delay per mile annually.
“In the case of Kingwood … infrastructure is 30 years old, so it’s getting to the end of its lifespan,” De Leon said. “Another case is those roads were built with two lanes, but now that the subdivision is built out, there’s a lot of congestion.”
The first phase of the Northpark Drive project will widen the road to six divided lanes between Hwy. 59 and Russell Palmer Road. This phase of the project also includes the construction of an overpass at the Union Pacific Railroad track, just east of Loop 494.
De Leon said the overpass will ensure public safety vehicles have a clear path to bypass the railroad track while responding to emergencies.
“If there were a fire, or somebody were to have a heart attack, and the ambulance got stuck on one side … it would not be able to respond in a timely manner,” De Leon said.
Like the first phase, the second phase of the project will widen the road to six divided lanes between Russell Palmer Road and Woodland Hills Drive. This phase also includes elevating a portion of the roadway above the floodway of Bens Branch, a stream that runs north of Northpark Drive.
De Leon said this portion of the road—located near the Hidden Pines Drive intersection—has flooded three times in the last four years. He said the plan is to raise the road to the 500-year flood plain elevation so drivers can use the road even in high-water situations.
The first phase of the project will be funded by the city of Houston and TIRZ 10. During fiscal year 2019-20, the city will spend $6 million on acquiring land and designing the project. During fiscal year 2020-21, the city will spend $9.45 million and the LHRA will spend $23.35 million on construction.
The majority of the funding for the second phase will be covered by federal grants, with the remaining total covered by TIRZ funds. According to the CIP, LHRA will spend $6.53 million in TIRZ funds on designing the second phase in 2022, and in 2023, the LHRA will use $28 million in grant funding and more than $12 million of TIRZ funds for construction.
In October, the LHRA submitted a grant application for $28 million to the Houston-Galveston Area Council—the agency that allocates federal grant funding to local transportation projects—to pay for most of Phase 2. De Leon said the LHRA will find out if the grant application has been accepted next year. If the funding does not come through, the project will be delayed and additional preparation work may be necessary.