Nearly 55,000 cars travel on the road each day, said Matt Buchanan, president of the Pearland Economic Development Corp. While FM 518 begins in Fort Bend County and runs through Pearland, Friendswood and League City, the portion of the road beginning at Hwy. 288 and ending at Hwy. 35 is the highest-ranked regional priority for Houston-Galveston Area Council, Buchanan said. The road will be widened from Hwy. 288 to Cullen Boulevard starting in 2024. As it is the main east-west corridor in Pearland, it can see a lot of congestion, especially during peak rush hour, he said.
“I think there is a recognition by everyone that it is the busiest road we have in Pearland and in Brazoria County,” Buchanan said.
While many residents and business owners can agree the road needs to be improved, some worry widening the road could take space away from the businesses that line Broadway Street, of which there are over 600.
“We would like for TxDOT and the city to re-examine the effects it’s going to have on businesses and make a better business approach, especially for the older part of town,” said Carol Artz-Bucek, Pearland Chamber of Commerce president.
Discussions about right of way, or the real estate TxDOT would need on both sides of the road, have started with TxDOT needing up to 30 feet on either side of the road. Older businesses built when less right of way was required may not have the available space, causing the road to cut into parking spaces or run up to businesses’ doors.
“As the businesses get newer, there is more right of way,” Artz-Bucek said.
Clayton Funeral Homes, located on FM 518 near Mykawa Road, is one of the businesses that would be severely affected by the widening, owner John Clayton said.
“It would probably take about 30% of the parking lot. In the funeral business, that puts me out of business,” Clayton said.
Clayton has been told he could lose 20 feet of space, resulting in the loss of some parking, as well as his driveway. His parking lot accommodates roughly 95% of expected guests for a funeral.
“By taking those spots, you have suddenly impacted everything else,” Clayton said. “You have to redesign what you have and cut down. I wouldn’t even meet the requirements of the city. It really creates a challenge.”
The city requires that the business have a certain number of parking spaces and a certain amount of right of way. As the business is landlocked by roads and drainage easements, Clayton would go to the city to see if he could expand his parking lot. If he is unsuccessful in working with the city, he would lose the business, which is celebrating 100 years in Texas in 2021.
“If I can’t work something out with the city, you might want to consider my business a buyout,” Clayton said. “I can’t work with the people of Pearland if I can’t park them.”
The chamber has formed an ad hoc committee to discuss the plans for the road. While the committee has not engineered an alternative way to expand the road, Artz-Bucek mentioned one idea is making Broadway Street curve so the amount of right of way taken on both sides of the road can vary depending on whether a business can spare the space.
Construction would be split into sections and is funded from Hwy. 288 to Cullen Boulevard. TxDOT intends to widen the road past Cullen to the Walnut-Broadway split at least, if not to Hwy. 35, but has not yet secured funding for that section, TxDOT Public Information Officer Danny Perez said. As there is very little right of way in front of businesses closer to Hwy. 35, a potential solution discussed for construction from the Broadway-Walnut Street split to Hwy. 35 includes turning Broadway Street into a one-way street and having Walnut run the opposite direction.
“We are still working to determine how to move forward with the section between [Cullen] and the Walnut split, which remains unfunded,” Perez said.
Though no timelines have been set, businesses east of Cullen are already concerned about construction.
“It really does concern me how much space they are going to take from my parking lot and how it is going to affect my drainage,” said Gina Ladin, an owner at Journey to the Past Antiques, which is located on Broadway Street next to Hwy. 35.
Journey to the Past has been located on Broadway Street since it opened eight years ago. The business had drainage problems a few years ago, so the city installed mechanisms to help the road drain in front of the business. If the right of way is pushed past the drainage, Ladin said she is worried the business may be flooded in the process. However, that is not the only aspect of construction that worries her, she said.
“If they close my street [during construction], customers can’t get to my parking lot,” Ladin said.
Turning the road outside her business into a one-way could force customers to make a U-turn to go into Ladin’s business. She said she is not worried about this, as people who are planning on coming to an antique shop will likely not mind having to make a U-turn to visit.
Ladin owns a retail business; however, many other businesses affected by these changes are service-oriented businesses that have been at their location for years, if not decades, Artz-Bucek said. Losing spaces could cost them the business, she said.
The expansion argument
While discussions are still taking place about how to expand the road, it is generally accepted by residents and business owners that something must be done, Buchanan said.
The proposed expansion would widen the road on either side to potentially create two more lanes—an eastbound and a westbound one.
“The purpose of the proposed project is to accommodate future anticipated traffic demand and growth in the region as well as to improve safety and mobility,” Perez said.
TxDOT is still waiting on environmental clearance for the corridor, Perez said. TxDOT expects to begin acquiring rights of way for the stretch between Hwy. 288 and Cullen this year.
A priority is to make the road safer with the installation of medians, Perez said.
The PEDC is working with the city on a plan to increase mobility across the city, with easing congestion on Broadway Street the biggest priority, Buchanan said. However, there are other parts as well, including making Magnolia Parkway, Bailey Road and McHard Road into east-to-west thoroughfares. Both Artz-Bucek and business owners have offered up the possibility of waiting until all three roads are finished before starting work on Broadway, as additional thoroughfares may ease congestion. However, additional thoroughfares will not completely remedy traffic, Buchanan said.
“Magnolia is open, and Bailey Road is almost finished too, and they haven’t [eased congestion]. There is traffic going east to west on Broadway because there is traffic going to destinations. As long as there are destinations, there is traffic as well,” he said.
The PEDC is not responsible for the project’s construction but is working with local businesses and with TxDOT to address concerns prior to breaking ground, Buchanan said.
“For the good of businesses, it is something that has to be done,” Buchanan said. “A business needs customers to be there and to get in and out in an efficient manner.”