Segments F1, F2 and G enter design phase
By the end of 2013, a new toll road connecting I-10 in Katy to Hwy. 290 in Cypress is slated to open in far northwestern Harris County. Decades in the making, Segment E of the Grand Parkway is a 15.2-mile portion of Houston’s planned third outer loop that will span 185 miles when complete.
“Northwest Houston is a very dynamic area,” said David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Association. “From Cypress, Tomball, The Woodlands and Spring—it is growing all around. [The Grand Parkway] complements the growth in that area and will give people alternate access to get around town.”
Aside from smaller four-lane roadways in western Harris County such as Fry and Barker Cypress roads, accessing Katy from Cypress and vice versa can be difficult to do without traveling down to Beltway 8—something that will change when Segment E opens.
“[The Grand Parkway] will spread the traffic as it comes into Houston and around the city and not chew up major arteries, said William “Billy” Burge, president of the Grand Parkway Association. “It will allow traffic to flow and to move from one sector to another without having to come all the way into Beltway 8.”
Traffic from far northwest Harris and southern Waller counties will be somewhat relieved by the completion of Segment E, whether their destination is the Energy Corridor or the Westchase District, said Bill Rowden, co-chairman of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce mobility committee.
“In addition, Segment E will allow truck traffic using Hwy. 59 or I-10 that is destined for 290 west to go directly to 290 without having to use Hwy. 6 or the Sam Houston Tollway,” he said. “Eventually that traffic will be able to access 290, 249, I-45 or I-69 from the Grand Parkway without having to come into the main traffic area of the city of Houston.”
History vs. progress
The Texas Department of Transportation began work on Segment E in September 2011, but even months after construction started there is a stark contrast along the corridor between the area’s past and future.
Alongside the developing toll road, archeologists last summer discovered 10 human burial sites thought to be 8,000–14,000 years old near Cypress Creek. TxDOT filed an application with a trial court for permission to remove the remains from the area, which was registered as a historical site in the 1990s. The application captured the interest of the Harris County Historical Society, which decided to intervene on behalf of Native American tribes.
“As a result of those contacts, some negotiations occurred, and TxDOT concluded with a written agreement signed off on by the Native American representatives that said the remains wouldn’t be removed,” said Glen Van Slyke, Harris County assistant county attorney.
The site will be covered with a layer of soil and broken rock to protect the remains from erosion and damage during the course of construction, and there will be an on-site monitor to represent the tribal governments and ensure the area is protected, Van Slyke said.
Conversely, a few miles away from the archeological site the master-planned community of Bridgeland in Cypress was conceptualized with the assumption that the Grand Parkway would run through the development. When built out, Bridgeland will have 21,000 homes and an 800-acre Town Center, through which the Grand Parkway will run.
“We do believe that long term it will help Bridgeland, but even more so that it will help solidify the entire area,” said Peter Houghton, vice president of master-planned communities for Howard Hughes Corporation, which owns Bridgeland. “This whole section of Cypress and Katy between I-10 and Hwy. 290 is going to enjoy a robust growth period, in my opinion.”
Segments E, F1, F2 and G of the Grand Parkway will not have parallel feeder roads, which places more importance on the location of exits. On Segment E, there will be 10 intersections along the toll road from which drivers can exit and enter the freeway, aside from I-10 and Hwy. 290. Franz, Morton, Clay and FM 529 are the only existing roadways that will connect with Segment E.
In return for the 160 acres of right of way Bridgeland gave to TxDOT for the Grand Parkway, the agency is building four major intersections for Segment E in the community, Houghton said.
“We do plan to have immediate access from Bridgeland the day [Segment E] opens,” he said. “It will most likely be from the Bridgeland Creek Parkway intersection, which will be serviced temporarily by House Hahl Road.”
After a year or two, Bridgeland will add onto another road—either Bridgeland Creek Parkway or North Bridgeland Lake Parkway—to intersect with the Grand Parkway.
Drivers on the Grand Parkway will pass through toll plazas every four to seven miles. Fees vary depending on the plaza, but they range from about .35–.70 cents on entrance and exit ramps on the four segments to $1.80—the highest fee—on Segment E at one of the two main lane toll plazas. The currently established rates will go into effect in October 2013. Toll rates are subject to change and will be re-evaluated every October.
Last fall, TxDOT announced it would partner with developer Zachry-Odebrecht Parkway Builders to construct three portions of the Grand Parkway—F1, F2 and G, which will span Harris and Montgomery counties and ultimately connect Hwy. 290 to Hwy. 59. Work is expected to begin on the three segments this summer.
“The day the contract is approved [by the attorney general’s office], they will start first on the major interchanges, which are Hwy. 290, Hwy. 249, I-45 and Hwy. 59,” Gornet said. “Then very quickly they will move to the pieces in between, so all 38 miles will be under construction at the same time and will open in December 2015.”
TxDOT and Zachry-Odebrecht are working based on a design-build strategy, which allows the developer to handle the layout and construction of the project as opposed to a traditional route in which TxDOT does not procure contracts until design sketches are complete.
TxDOT will pay for the Grand Parkway Segments F1, F2 and G with $2.78 billion in toll revenue bonds that are expected to be issued by the Grand Parkway Transportation Corporation. Zachry-Odebrect will then be reimbursed on a monthly basis.
Negotiations between Zachry-Odebrecht and TxDOT concluded in late December, but until approval is granted from the Texas Attorney General’s office, work will continue in 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,” said builder spokeswoman Linda Merritt. “Right now we are still finalizing the footprint and evaluating different elements on the segments to make sure we have the best plan.”