Research Forest Drive 1-mile extension into West Magnolia nearing completion

A 1-mile extension of Research Forest Drive in The Woodlands to Egypt Lane in the Magnolia Parkway area is expected to be completed by the end of the month, giving residents in the western portion of The Woodlands access to another shopping district and a connection to a major east-west transportation corridor.

Research Forest Drive previously came to a dead end at Branch Crossing Drive, forcing drivers to make a left turn onto Branch Crossing.

However, a voter-approved 2-cent sales tax increase two years ago in the Westwood Magnolia Parkway Improvement District paved the way for the sale of bonds to fund the extension.

"Both the county and the businesses wanted the road put through, the county for mobility reasons, and the businesses to get more customers," said Carl Gerhardt, chairman of the WMPID.

Adjacent to Egypt Lane is the Westwood Village Shopping Center, anchored by a Target store, T.J. Maxx, Ross and PetSmart. Also in the vicinity is a Home Depot and several fast food and dine-in restaurants.

Gerhardt said one of the reasons the extension was built was to open a customer base located in The Woodlands and potentially entice those customers to shop in the area.

Michael Rusk, project engineer for LJA Engineering, said the extension will be completed before the post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping season.

"That's the whole point of the road," he said.

The new roadway will include two lanes in each direction, with approximately a 25-foot median of trees and shrubs, Rusk said. In addition, a left turn lane is being constructed on Egypt Lane, and Research Forest Drive is being widened by two lanes for about 75 yards so that traffic can merge onto the existing lanes.

Total construction costs are about $2 million, Rusk said.

While the road itself has been mostly completed, the final steps before opening the extension include the installation of two traffic signals and fiber optic cables. The traffic signals will be at Research Forest Drive and Branch Crossing Drive and at Research Forest Drive and Egypt Lane.

Gerhardt said the inclusion of the fiber optic cable will allow the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office substation, located in the Target shopping center, full station capabilities and for the traffic signals to be connected to the county network.

Jane Miller, attorney for the WMPID, said the board of directors authorized the 2-cent tax levy in 2010.

The purpose of the tax levy, instituted at businesses only within the improvement district, was, in part, to improve mobility in the area.

She said the board has discussed potential improvements to Egypt Lane and Honea Egypt Road.

The new Research Forest extension, meanwhile, will allow Woodlands residents another option to connect to either FM 1488 or FM 2978. The portion of Egypt Lane where the extension connects is about one-eighth of a mile from each of the two roadways.

According to a traffic study conducted by Atkins Engineering for The Woodlands Development Company and released in February, traffic at the Branch Crossing Drive and Research Forest Drive intersection has increased from about 8,700 cars per day in 2011 to about 9,300 cars per day in 2012.