Northpark Drive, FM 1960 mobility projects to break ground in 2022
Two projects will soon be underway to improve both Northpark Drive and FM 1960, which are among the state’s most heavily congested roadways, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2021 report. The list measures congestion by the number of extra hours of travel time experienced by travelers on over 1,800 road sections throughout the state. (Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
In Kingwood, a roughly $55 million project to expand Northpark Drive from four to six lanes between Hwy. 59 and Russell Palmer Road is slated to go to bid in mid-February with an estimated completion date of December 2024. That project will also add an overpass over the Union Pacific Corp. railroad and Loop 494 to create an evacuation route from Kingwood.
In Humble and Atascocita, a pair of projects headed by the Texas Department of Transportation will expand FM 1960 between Business FM 1960 to east of Twigsworth Lane and from Twigsworth Lane to just west of the San Jacinto River Bridge. The latter project will also add an overpass at West Lake Houston Parkway.
The projects—which will cost $58.2 million and $70 million, respectively—will expand the road segments from four lanes with two-way center turn lanes to six lanes divided by grass medians with sidewalks.
Both projects are scheduled to begin once utility adjustments and other right of way preparations are complete. They are expected to wrap up by April 2025.
Lance LaCour, president and CEO of Partnership Lake Houston, said he believes mobility projects such as these can have positive effects on local businesses once completed.
“Major mobility projects like these may alleviate traffic congestion, which can improve quality of life for residents,” LaCour said. “In some cases, these types of projects can provide new or better access to commercial properties, which may enhance their value and open new opportunities for development. This may help expand the tax base.”
While the projects in Kingwood, Humble and Atascocicta are being implemented to improve mobility and safety, some residents have expressed concern about access to local businesses and the potential for increased flooding due to construction.
Northpark Drive project
The Northpark Drive project—which is being spearheaded by the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 10 and the city of Houston—aims to decrease traffic congestion, address stormwater drainage and enhance pedestrian safety in the area, LHRA officials said. The city of Houston is contributing roughly $9.5 million to the project with the TIRZ covering the remainder of the cost.
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2021 Most Congested Roadways in Texas report, Northpark Drive from Sorters McClellan Road to Mills Branch Drive ranked as the 82nd most congested roadway in the state.
The LHRA and TIRZ 10 administrator Ralph De Leon said construction on the project was originally slated to begin last summer, but challenges associated with right of way acquisitions have caused delays.
Additionally, the design phase has begun for the eastern section of the roadway—the Northpark Drive reconstruction project. That $48.4 million effort will expand the road from four to six lanes between Russell Palmer Road and Woodland Hills Drive and is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2023.
At a March 11 LHRA board of directors meeting, LHRA board Chair Stan Sarman stressed the importance of the reconstruction project.
“I want to reiterate to our consultants ... the critical nature of Northpark Drive being passable during extreme events,” he said. “We have to make sure that this works.”
During a February 2020 LHRA public meeting, more than a dozen local residents submitted comments expressing concerns about the potential for additional flooding resulting from the Northpark overpass project. According to the Harris County Flood Control District, the Kingwood area received a four-day total of around 30 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which affected several neighborhoods near Northpark.
De Leon said flood mitigation was at the forefront of the design process, noting roughly $10.8 million of the overpass project’s budget will be spent on flood remediation infrastructure.
“The roadway is being designed to meet the Atlas 14 100-year flood event requirements,” he said. “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.”
According to LHRA planning documents, the existing drainage ditch along Northpark 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 near Hwy. 59.
De Leon also noted the planned overpass over the Union Pacific Corp. railroad and Loop 494 will provide an additional evacuation route in the case of another flooding event.
During the February 2020 LHRA public meeting, several residents also expressed concern about accessibility to local businesses during construction.
Eric Johnson—owner of Euro Glo & Fit Spa on Northpark Drive—said in a January interview that he feared the overpass would restrict access to businesses located near Northpark and Loop 494.
“Everybody there—the McDonalds, the Chick-fil-A, the Sonic, the Kroger—[is] going to lose money because people are going to be driving right by them on the overpass,” Johnson said. “They’re going to hurt the little guy. They’re trying to make the traffic flow, but they’re not thinking about the businesses. ... We’re the ones that pay taxes around here.”
According to planning documents, the project will also include the construction of an access road on each side of the overpass to maintain access to nearby businesses.
FM 1960 project
In Humble and Atascocita, the FM 1960 road widening and overpass projects are aimed at easing congestion in the area, TxDOT Public information Officer Danny Perez said.
“The projects will improve safety, accessibility and relieve traffic congestion while maintaining high mobility levels for through traffic,” Perez said. “We wanted to make sure that we’re keeping up with that momentum and addressing the growth in the area.”
According to Perez, construction of the road projects will begin once utility adjustments and other right of way preparations are complete. Perez noted, however, officials have begun traffic switches along the roadway and new concrete pavement is being installed toward the eastern portion of the corridor.
Several business owners expressed concern about accessibility to their business during construction as well as the possibility of the overpass reducing traffic to some businesses, according to 2016 TxDOT public meeting documents.
“TxDOT is continually reviewing the traffic control and management in an effort to minimize delays and impacts to the traveling public,” Perez said. “We understand that these projects may impact the surrounding communities as construction proceeds. However, we know once completed, these two projects will significantly improve mobility while at the same time enhance safety in areas where traffic counts have increased.”
Mitchell Wilkerson—co-owner of Old MacDonald’s Farm, located on FM 1960 near Woodland Hills Drive—said he was not concerned about the construction having a potentially adverse effect on his business.
“I don’t think construction is going to affect us one way or the other, both during or after completion ... unless it’s just a one-lane, stopped-traffic, no-one-can-move-for-an-hour type of construction,” Wilkerson said. “I’m not as concerned as others might be.”
Perez said TxDOT officials hope to expedite construction by using nighttime and weekend work hours to minimize lane closures during peak traffic times.