Brazoria County breaks ground on Hwy. 288 toll lanes

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Brazoria County began the construction process in late July on the Brazoria County Expressway, also known as the Hwy. 288 toll lanes project. The project, which is slated for completion in July 2019, is expected to alleviate growing congestion on the mainlanes.

“That roadway—State Hwy. 288—is an extraordinarily congested highway,” Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta said. “It has been for a while, and it gets worse and worse. There needs to be some relief, and that’s why we’re [building the toll road].”

The Brazoria County Expressway is being built in tandem with the Hwy. 288 Toll Lanes Project in Harris County so commuters can have continuous tolled access from CR 58 near Manvel to Hwy. 59 in Houston. Together, the two projects will comprise a four-lane toll road roughly 15 miles long. The project will ease traffic during peak hours and provide direct connectors to the Texas Medical Center, Loop 610 and Beltway 8.

The toll road project should be paid off by 2049, according to the Brazoria County Toll Road Authority debt service requirements.

Digging for details

The Brazoria County Toll Road Authority, a public entity with a five-member board of directors appointed by the county, is the entity overseeing the toll project and will be responsible for its maintenance and operation after completion.

According to Brazoria County Engineer Matt Hanks, the county could have given up primacy for the project, allowing the Texas Department of Transportation and a private company to oversee it. By keeping the project within Brazoria County’s control, the county will oversee the construction and maintenance. The revenue from the tolls will go to BCTRA, allowing it to pay back the cost of construction.

“For Brazoria County, [overseeing the project]was the right choice,” Hanks said. “The toll was going to happen whether we wanted it to or not, and now we have the control of the toll lanes.”

The Brazoria County Expressway will be roughly 5 miles long from CR 58 near the Lakes of Savannah residential community to just north of McHard Road, Hanks said. The toll road will have four lanes—two northbound and two southbound. The toll road will be built in the grassy median of Hwy. 288. The existing lanes of Hwy. 288 will not be tolled, Hanks said.

“This [toll road]is a way for us to expand the highways so we can serve the citizens of Brazoria County,” BCTRA board Chairman Gary Idoux said.

Brazoria County Commissioners Court awarded Pulice Construction Inc. a $97.2 million contract for the project. Of the total budget, $80 million will be used for the toll lanes. TxDOT funded $15 million to widen FM 518 from Business Center Drive to Smith Ranch Road, which will require reconstruction of the Hwy. 288 mainlane overpass at FM 518. An additional $2 million was funded by the city of Pearland for aesthetic improvements and landscaping.

The Pearland Economic Development Corporation is overseeing the aesthetic improvements, which will include lighting, landscaping, ponds and sculptures.

“We are doing this because the [Hwy.] 288 corridor is the most specific corridor we have,” Pearland Economic Development Corporation President Matt Buchanan said. “We are going to try to make it something that is welcoming and inviting when you come into the community versus what it is now.”

The total cost of enhancements will likely be more than $10 million, which will be incurred by the PEDC, Buchanan said. The PEDC is funded through Pearland sales tax revenue.

“We’re just excited about the toll road, and I think it’s obviously going to continue the economic growth we have seen,” Buchanan said.

The Brazoria County section of the toll road will have two toll plazas: one placed north of McHard Road and the other will be south of FM 518.

The BCTRA will collect the tolls generated on the Brazoria County portion of Hwy. 288 to pay off its debt for constructing the road, operations and road maintenance.

“We feel like that type of road needs to be under local control,” Idoux said. “It’s not often that you get to do that.”

Commuting to Houston

The Brazoria County Expressway will feed into the toll roads underway on the Harris County portion of Hwy. 288. The majority of the toll road—10.3 miles out of roughly 15 miles—runs through Harris County, and the project is subdivided into six segments.

The Harris County portion of the toll road, which is known as the SH 288 Toll Lanes project, is estimated to cost $815 million. The project is funded through federal transportation infrastructure loans made out to Blueridge Transportation Group, the developer.

“Because of our partnership with TxDOT and [lead construction contractor]Almeda-Genoa, we are able to have cohesive meetings with everyone in the room who it may involve,” said Raynese Edwards, public information coordinator for Blueridge Transportation Group.

“We believe that the project is going well … our success works on all three of us working together cohesively,” Edwards said.

Construction is slated for completion by late 2019. The Harris County toll road project will include direct connectors and ramp bridges at Beltway 8, Loop 610 and near the Texas Medical Center. Toll plazas are anticipated near Binz Road, just north of Loop 610 and just north of the Sam Houston Tollway. More toll plazas may be considered.

Traffic and revenue

Hanks said the toll road will pay for itself through the toll revenue collected, easing the burden on taxpayers.

“It’s the genesis of the project,” Sebesta said. “If it was going to be a burden on the taxpayers, then we wouldn’t be doing it.”

The anticipated toll rate for the Brazoria County Toll Road Authority in 2019 will be 50 cents each, according to county revenue projections. At an estimated 5.4 million transactions, the potential gross toll revenue of the Brazoria County Expressway would be $2.7 million for 2019 alone.

BCTRA received $83.5 million in revenue bonds for the project. TxDOT and the city of Pearland will fund the rest of the project. The toll authority’s debt matures in 2049.

During peak traffic times, traffic is  still expected to flow at 45 miles per hour on the toll road, Hanks said.

Traffic congestion on Hwy. 288 has grown since 2015, continuing to exacerbate commute times. At Hwy. 288 and FM 518, traffic on the highway has grown from about 54,000 vehicles in 2012 to 97,000 in 2016, according to annual traffic counts from TxDOT.

The growth represents an 80 percent increase in traffic. According to a survey done by Brazoria County, 72 percent of peak period travelers have experienced delay driving along
Hwy. 288. Sixty-one percent experienced a delay for at least 15 minutes.

“I can’t wait for two years from now when it’s going to be complete,” Sebesta said.

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