As officials target busiest roads in Lake Houston area, future of Harris County mobility projects are rocky

The Texas Transportation Institute's 2019 report ranked Northpark Drive the most congested road in the Lake Houston area. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Texas Transportation Institute's 2019 report ranked Northpark Drive the most congested road in the Lake Houston area. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

The Texas Transportation Institute's 2019 report ranked Northpark Drive the most congested road in the Lake Houston area. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Correction: The graphic for this story incorrectly shows the scope for the FM 1960 expansion project. The scope for 4A should extend from just east of Hwy. 59 on the FM 1960 Bypass Road to just east of Twigsworth Lane. The 4B project should extend from Twigsworth Lane to just west of the Lake Houston bridge, rather than stopping at West Lake Houston Parkway as shown.

Several Kingwood, Humble and Atascocita corridors were ranked in the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s annual list of the most congested roads in the state. Six local roads ranked in the top quartile of more than 1,800 roads studied in TTI’s report, including Northpark and Kingwood drives, West Lake Houston Parkway and FM 1960.

David Schrank, a senior research scientist at the institute, said the report—released in December—measures traffic volume, travel speed and vehicle occupancy to determine the rankings.

“It looks like things got a lot better in a lot of areas, and that is not necessarily tied to what we’re seeing on the ground,” he said.

While projects are underway on some of these congested roads, the future of others ranked lower on the list, such as Atascocita Road and Will Clayton Parkway, could be tested due to Harris County’s ongoing debate on precincts’ mobility funding.

A countywide road study that launched in July was opposed by Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who represents Kingwood and Humble, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack.

Cagle said he fears the study could be used as a “power play” to divert funds from precincts 3 and 4 under the guise of improving efficiency. However, which and how individual projects might be affected will not be known until the dollars are allocated this year, he said.

“If the raw grab of money occurs, then we’re going to have problems in terms of how we take care of the responsibilities that we need to take care of,” Cagle said.

Addressing road congestion

Local entities tasked with maintaining these busy roads have proposed transportation projects in their respective long-term mobility plans.

Per the TTI’s report, Northpark Drive is the most congested road in the Lake Houston area, ranking at No. 182 statewide with 111,980 hours of annual delay per mile.

The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority, which oversees taxes collected in Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 10 in Kingwood, plans to begin expanding part of Northpark Drive to six lanes in late 2020. Phase 1 will be finished in 2023.

“The project will save lives, and that is the priority of the community,” LHRA officials stated in an email.

Officials said they do not have plans to expand Kingwood Drive, which is the Lake Houston area’s third most congested road. However, intersection improvements and preliminary flood remediation improvements are proposed for the corridor.

Additionally, FM 1960 between I-45 in Spring and Crosby Huffman Road in Crosby took three spots in TTI’s report. The Texas Department of Transportation has two projects planned to expand FM 1960 from four to six lanes with raised medians from Business FM 1960 to the Lake Houston bridge.

TxDOT Public Information Officer Danny Perez said the projects will cost $134 million, will bid this summer and are estimated to be done in 2024. Perez also said the department is performing an access management study for FM 1960 from I-45 to Hwy. 59 that could add raised medians to the corridor.

Meanwhile, West Lake Houston Parkway from FM 1960 in Atascocita to Sam Houston Tollway North was ranked No. 409 in the study with an annual delay per mile of 70,327 hours. Precinct 2 Communications Director Frida Villalobos said her office does not have a proposed project to improve congestion on the road, but she expects the FM 1960 expansion will improve traffic along the parkway as well.

“We understand the importance of this corridor and continue to evaluate any needed improvements,” Villalobos said.

Additionally, Villalobos said the precinct is waiting on feedback from the countywide mobility study to plan future projects.

Mobility funding concerns

In previous Harris County budgets, mobility funds from toll roads and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County were split up across the county’s four precincts using a formula that took several factors into consideration, including population as well as total county-maintained lane miles and thoroughfare miles, according to county documents.

Heading into the 2019 budget year, precincts 3 and 4 combined to make up 52% of the population, 65% of the lane miles and 62% of the thoroughfare miles, resulting in those two precincts getting about 59% of mobility funds.

Harris County launched the study in July to determine the condition and life expectancy of every county-maintained road before deciding how mobility funds should be distributed among its four precincts.

The preliminary study will be presented to commissioners in February, and then recommendations will be made based on the data being compiled and policy priorities from commissioners, Harris County Engineer John Blount said.

“We’ll have all the data at our disposal, but we need direction from commissioners on how they want projects prioritized so we can put that data to use,” he said.

While Cagle and Radack opposed the study, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis was a driving force behind launching it. Ellis said he wants to improve upon the previous system, which he believes was arbitrary and unfair to precincts 1 and 2.

He said evenly splitting METRO funds, which took more than $4 million in funding away from precincts 3 and 4, was a temporary solution until the system can be fixed. Precinct 4’s master mobility plan includes Atascocita Road and Will Clayton Parkway, which experienced 43,488 hours and 48,593 hours of delay annually, respectively, per TTI’s report.

Pamela Rocchi, director of capital improvement projects for Precinct 4, said receiving less funding would likely not have an immediate effect on the roads, as both are still in the planning stage. However, she said shifting funding from the precinct could cause a cascading effect on future projects.

“Shifting funding away from Precinct 4 can impact the scheduling of currently active projects and push uninitiated projects further into the future,” she said.

Kara McIntyre contributed to this report.

This article ran in the February 2020 edition of Lake Houston, Humble, Kingwood. The full e-edition will be available online Feb. 3.

Shawn Arrajj Kelly Schafler


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