The Texas Department of Transportation is undertaking an access management study that will evaluate safety and mobility improvement options along one of the most congested roadways in the Conroe area—Hwy. 105.
The roadway has become one of the most traveled roadways in Montgomery County with as many as 43,000 commuters traversing the roadway on a daily basis—or about 15.7 million annually.
Conroe added 12,000 residents from 2010-15, according to the U.S. Census. Development and population growth continue to add demand for the roadway, inviting more accidents and fatalities, local transportation officials said.
“Increasing commercial, retail and residential development will continue to cause delay and frustration,” said Catherine McCreight, senior transportation planner for TxDOT’s Houston district. “Increasing traffic augments the potential for crashes.”
There were 694 car accidents and three fatalities on Hwy. 105 from I-45 to FM 2854 from 2012-14. The Conroe Police Department also responded to 458 car accidents—including 97 major accidents and one fatality crash—on Hwy. 105 within the Conroe city limits in 2015, Sgt. James Waller said.
TxDOT is also undertaking two other projects to improve Hwy. 105: an access management project that will add a raised median, sidewalks and bike racks between I-45 and Hwy. 75 as well as a widening of the roadway from 10th Street in Conroe to Business 105 in Cleveland.
Access management study
The $600,000 Hwy. 105 access management study by TxDOT started in May and evaluates 13.4 miles of the roadway between I-45 in Conroe and FM 2854 near Montgomery. The agency conducted a public meeting May 23 seeking resident input and will continue to host a series of public information sessions throughout the study process.
In its evaluation, TxDOT will assess the benefit of designated right-turn and left-turn lanes, raised medians, traffic signals and changing signal timing. The study will not consider any road widening options, and the agency has not designated any funding to potential improvement projects, TxDOT spokesperson Deidrea George said.
Montgomery County Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador said mobility improvements would help alleviate traffic congestion along the roadway. However, they might cause some concern among local business owners—particularly if a raised median is implemented near commercial strips.
“I think they are just trying to improve safety and mobility and make it flow better, but you can see both ways,” Meador said. “You can see the business owners’ angst from it because people won’t be able to just turn into their driveway. They [would] have to go to the light and turn back.”
Brian Bondy, Conroe/Lake Conroe Chamber of Commerce president, said safety improvements should be mindful of the effect on businesses in the area.
“Hwy. 105 West is a lifeline for businesses and residents situated up and down that corridor,” Bondy said. “Any time safety is addressed it is a good thing, but if it comes at the price tag of affecting business, we have to make sure that the means justify the end result.”
The portion of Hwy. 105 in Conroe between I-45 and West Loop 336 experiences the most congestion and car accidents within the study boundaries, said Tommy Woolley, Conroe assistant director of projects and transportation. Out of the 694 crashes in the roadway between 2012-14, 274 occurred between West Loop 336 and I-45, according to TxDOT.
“It seems like traffic backs up every day,” Woolley said. “We have been working with the timing of the lights so traffic flows better, but it just seems like no matter what we do [traffic] stacks up.”
Conroe ISD Superintendent Don Stockton said the district, which has facilities along Hwy. 105 including Conroe High School, supports the safety improvements.
“Conroe ISD supports any improvements that result in safer roads,” Stockton said.
George said TxDOT is also evaluating ways to connect shopping centers to one another without forcing motorists to turn into Hwy. 105 to travel from one center to another. She said reducing the number of driveways would lower the number of accidents between commuters and shoppers.
Although the possibility of a future road widening has not been eliminated, widening Hwy. 105 would not address safety concerns along the roadway, said Adam Galland, TxDOT assistant engineer with the Montgomery area office. A widening would also require right of way acquisition, which could take years to negotiate.
“Once the traffic counts get large enough and you start having a large amount of development and driveways, that is when the accidents start increasing,” Galland said.
TxDOT and the city of Conroe are also partnering toge-ther on a separate project on Hwy. 105 in downtown Conroe.
Construction on the $3.5 million project will begin by the end of the year, and will add a raised median, designated turn lanes, sidewalks, landscaping, lighting and bike racks to the roadway between I-45 and Hwy. 75. The project will also replace existing strand-wire traffic signals with mast-arm traffic signals.
Woolley said city officials became interested in the project in 2011 as a part of the city’s vision for downtown Conroe. Additionally, the city wanted to address the high number of traffic accidents along the stretch of roadway after a Houston-Galveston Area Council report showed there were 122 accidents along the corridor from 2006-10.
“We have installed a lot of sidewalks downtown, and we have slowly connected existing sidewalks to each other [so residents can access] our fixed-route bus system, [Conroe Connection],” Woolley said.
The project is slated to begin before the end of the year, and highway contractor Smith & Company was selected for the 15-month venture. Galland said intermittent lane closures may be necessary for the project.
Although the project will address traffic safety with a raised median, George said it primarily seeks to improve pedestrian walkability and access in the downtown Conroe area. Crews will add sidewalks, lighting, benches on both sides of the street and around a detention pond at the intersection of I-45 and Hwy. 105.
“The corridor has a lot of commercial development that you can get to on a bike or walking,” George said. “It also addresses safety because you never want someone to have to walk on the street.”
TxDOT has added a third designated left-turn location to the raised median after nearby business owners expressed concern over its effect on their businesses at a May 2015 meeting. The median will allow commuters to turn left at the Cable Street intersection while driving in either direction near the McDonald’s while traveling westbound and near Donut Wheel while traveling east.
TxDOT engineers are redesigning a $160 million expansion project on Hwy. 105 from 10th Street in Conroe to Business 105 in Cleveland following public input on the 18.7-mile project last December. A timeline for construction has not been established.
That stretch of roadway also sees a significant number of traffic accidents. According to a 2012 TxDOT study, there were 538 traffic accidents between East Loop 336 in Conroe and Hwy. 59 in Cleveland between 2007 and 2009. Those accidents resulted in 16 fatalities and 378 injuries.
Montgomery County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark said the roadway is traveled by heavy trucks and commuters. [polldaddy poll=9451384]
“Coming from the Hwy. 59 corridor across to Conroe and I-45, there is not a lot of cut-through options,” Clark said. “Hwy. 105 has been a heavily traveled roadway, and because it is a two-lane road it has been very dangerous.
TxDOT originally proposed an expansion of the thoroughfare from two to four lanes as well as the construction of sidewalks, raised medians and divided medians at select locations along the road. Following input from residents and public officials, the agency will instead implement flush medians.
“TxDOT originally came back with [the] urban design of curb and gutter and a raised median that would have created a 45 mile per hour speed limit from Conroe to Cleveland,” Clark said. “We were able to convince TxDOT to go with a more conventional design rather than a city-type of street.”
TxDOT said drainage system changes are also being made that will require the purchase of additional right of way. The agency will speak with affected property owners at a public meeting later this year.