Segments F1, F2, G enter design phase
Construction is set to begin this summer on the northernmost portions of the Grand Parkway, the 180-mile outer loop of the Houston-metro area. The project is expected to improve mobility and is already proving to be a catalyst for commercial and residential development in one of the fastest growing regions in the country.
Segments F1, F2 and G, each four-lane tolled roads, will comprise 37.8 miles of the total project and will stretch from Hwy. 290 to Hwy. 59.
"[Grand Parkway] will spread traffic as it comes into Houston and around the city and not chew up major arteries," said William Burge, president of the Grand Parkway Association. "It will allow traffic to flow from one sector [of Houston] to another without having to come all the way into Beltway 8."
Serving as the Houston area's third outer loop, after Loop 610 and Beltway 8, the north and northwest segments of Grand Parkway are designed to ease the flow of some of the heaviest traffic in the Gulf Coast region.
"It will improve access to and from the growing commerce of the port region to the statewide grid of major highways and take that heavy traffic out of the urban core," said Eddie Sanchez, director of Houston Special Projects Office for the Texas Department of Transportation. "It will allow area residents greater choice in work and home locations to satisfy their needs for employment and housing."
Start of construction
One of the last major hurdles before starting construction on Segments F1 through G was the approval of the project's developer by the Texas Transportation Commission. That approval came in September during a meeting in The Woodlands when the TTC selected Zachry-Odebrecht, an alliance of Zachary Construction Corporation and Odebrecht Construction Inc., as the developer for the project.
Zachry-Odebrecht will develop the three segments, while subcontracting with 13 other engineering, construction and development firms, at a cost of $1.04 billion in order for the project to be completed by 2015.
The Zachry-Odebrecht team concluded negotiations with TxDOT in late December. Now, the contract must receive approval from the Texas Attorney General's office, said builder spokeswoman Linda Merritt. Until the builders receive a Notice to Proceed, which will give a green light for construction, Merritt said they will continue the design phase "at risk."
"Because it is just a long process to get everything reviewed and evaluated, it may be as late as May until we have final approval and can begin construction," she said. "Right now we are still finalizing the footprint and evaluating different elements on the segments to make sure we have the best plan."
Burge said once construction begins, there will be rapid movement in getting traffic in place.
"There are three different phases, and they are let in sequences so that we can have all [segments] going simultaneously," Burge said.
David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Association, said all 38 miles of the F1 through G will be constructed in less than three years. The day the contract is approved by the Attorney General, he said, construction crews will begin work.
So far, only two segments of the 11 into which Grand Parkway is divided are open to traffic: Segment I2 in east Houston and Segment D in Katy. Construction on Segment E, between I-10 and Hwy. 290, began in 2011 and is expected to be complete in 2013.
Once segments F1, F2 and G are completed in 2015, drivers will be able to travel continuously from I-10 in Katy to Hwy. 59 in New Caney, about 70 miles.
The northern segments of Grand Parkway are being developed as part of a public-private partnership established by TxDOT early in 2012.
TxDOT will pay for the Grand Parkway with $2.78 billion in toll revenue bonds that are expected to be issued by the Grand Parkway Transportation Corporation. Zachry-Odebrecht will then be reimbursed on a monthly basis.
"Basically, GPTC is going to sell bonds to pay for the design and construction of the project," Sanchez said. "On a monthly basis the developer will invoice TxDOT for work completed that month.TxDOT will evaluate the invoice and pay accordingly using the bond proceeds."
In December, the TTC approved the toll rates for segments F1 through G, which will be re-evaluated each October for potential increases. Any increases in toll rates would go into effect Jan. 1 of the following year. According to TxDOT, any revenue from tolls could be used to fund the development of future segments.
"Whenever additional moneys are available, in accordance with the [Market Valuation Waiver Agreement], the money will be used to enhance the existing Grand Parkway system or implement other segments whenever they are ready for development," Perez said.
Not only is the construction of the Grand Parkway expected to ease traffic congestion, the arrival of such a major thoroughfare is spurring commercial and residential real estate developments. Along the Rayford Road corridor east of I-45, near where Segment G is expected to connect with Riley Fuzzel Road, several major development projects are either underway or on the drawing board.
Residential developments such as The Falls at Imperial Oaks, Legends Ranch, Harmony (formerly Spring Trails) and Benders Landing which, according to Jim Holcomb of Holcomb Properties, is nearing build-out with only about 50 lots remaining, are experiencing strong sales.
Holcomb also said developers for Gracepoint Homes recently purchased 83 acres near Legends Ranch. In December, national luxury home builder Toll Brothers announced it had purchased 692 acres just east of Benders Landing where it will build 1,350 homes.
In addition, in March of 2012, H-E-B announced that it had purchased a 21.3-acre tract of land on Riley Fuzzel Road for a future grocery store site.
Meanwhile, the construction of Segment F2 on areas west of I-45 is also in part contributing to major projects, such as the 385-acre ExxonMobil campus and Springwoods Village, a 1,800-acre mixed used development. Segment F2 is projected to be developed on the southern edge of Springwoods Village.
"It is such an important mobility piece for east to west mobility in terms of traveling to or from Springwoods Village to areas like Kingwood and Katy," said Keith Simon, executive vice president of CDC Development. "You can't deny how important that is going to be to move people in [an] efficient way."
According to the North Houston Association, traffic around local segments of the Grand Parkway is expected to significantly increase. An NHA report states major roadways around Segmet F2 are predicted to increase in traffic to 394 percent more by 2025 compared to 2000 levels.
"Northwest Houston is a very dynamic area to start with," Gornet said. "From Cypress, Tomball, The Woodlands and Spring–it is growing all around. [The Grand Parkway] compliments the growth in that area and will give people alternate access to get around town."