The toll lanes under construction in the previously grassy median of Hwy. 288 are one of the major regional transportation projects for the Greater Houston area, as well as an important local project in Pearland and Brazoria County, officials said.
Construction on the project began late last summer. While the project was delayed due to Hurricane Harvey, it only set the construction project back a couple of weeks, County Engineer Matt Hanks said.
“We’ve got a little bit [of construction]going on everywhere,” Hanks said.
While the Hwy. 288 toll lanes are Brazoria County’s largest transportation project right now, they are not the only project on the horizon. Over the next few years, the county will discuss the Grand Parkway expansion, as segments B and C will go through parts of Brazoria and Galveston counties. Segment C will connect to the already existing Grand Parkway near Sugar Land and will end at Hwy. 288. Segment B will start where Segment C leaves off and will connect with Hwy. 6 and end at I-45.
“Environmental clearance has been completed, the alignment is set; it’s just a matter of we have to grow into it,” Brazoria County Commissioner Stacy Adams said.
The toll lanes running along Hwy. 288 stretch from CR 58 to the Hwy. 59/I-69 split. Hwy. 59 in Houston is the dividing line between the Hwy. 288 Toll Lanes Project and the Brazoria County Expressway.
The Brazoria County Expressway is slated to be completed in September 2019. While the project is slightly behind, it should not affect the opening date, Adams said.
“Certainly both ends of [the project]are on track,” Adams said.
Construction workers are working six days a week to complete the project, Adams said.
“So far they’re on track and are still looking forward to the 2019 grand opening along with the north end,” Adams said.
Brazoria County has maintained primacy on the project, meaning the county will have control over the project and the tolls. This also means the county is responsible for the funding.
The Brazoria County Expressway is roughly a $97 million project. Approximately $80 million of the project is going to the toll lanes, as well as the entrance and exit ramps for the toll lanes.
Because of the scope of the Brazoria County Expressway project, there are other smaller projects being done alongside it. Close to $2 million of the $97 million will go toward beautification projects, including decorative ponds, which the city of Pearland funded and the Pearland Economic Development Corporation will oversee.
The remaining $15 million of the project is going toward widening FM 518 in Pearland.
Currently, the county has started construction work on the bridges and most of the crossings.
“We have started the earth work at pretty much the entire length of the project,” Hanks said.
Drilling is also being done at McHard Road and Hwy. 288 for the overpass. The county has also started work on the detention ponds, which will be at the intersection of McHard Road and Hwy. 288 as well as the intersection of FM 518 and Hwy. 288.
The decorative ponds will be located at the south corners of the intersection of McHard Road and Hwy. 288 as well as the south and northeast corners of FM 518 and Hwy. 288.
“They’ve really got all phases working right now,” Hanks said.
One of the transportation projects that will be completed along with the Brazoria County Expressway is widening FM 518.
“Brazoria County approached Texas Department of Transportation and Rebuild 518 as part of [the Hwy. 288 project],” Hanks said.
According to Hanks, rebuilding FM 518 separately from the Hwy. 288 tolls would have cost both TxDOT and taxpayers more money. With the two projects working in tandem, the traffic on FM 518 can be shifted from the mainlanes to the toll lanes, and drivers will not be charged.
“If it wasn’t done now, then it would be a huge cost for the taxpayer,” Hanks said.
TxDOT will fund and design the FM 518 widening project, and Brazoria County will be building it.
“The construction with that is going to lag a lot,” Hanks said. “That work doesn’t really get kicked up until we get the toll lanes set up.”
Because the toll lanes are easing the burden of the commuter traffic on FM 518, the FM 518 project cannot take place until the toll lanes are finished. Otherwise, the county would have to build a separate bridge to redirect the FM 518 traffic.
“The reason why it’s a slow start is for them to tear out the mainlane bridges, they need somewhere to put the traffic, and then they will shift the mainlane traffic to the toll lanes while they build each bridge,” Hanks said.
Future transportation projects
The extension of the Grand Parkway, parts of which will run through Brazoria and Galveston counties, has been discussed by officials from both counties.
“There have been some conversations. We’ve talked about Segment B with the city of Alvin and Galveston County,” County Judge Matt Sebesta said.
However, it is too far in the future for anything to be decided about the project, Adams said.
“We need to finish [Hwy.] 288 before we think about the Grand Parkway,” Adams said. “We are not like TxDOT—we have to kind of take on one big project at a time.”
According to Adams, funding for the project has not been set aside yet by the county. If the county retains primacy, it will have to pay for the project.
As it stands, Brazoria and Galveston counties have primacy over the Grand Parkway. However, that is still subject to change.
“It’s possible [the counties]will have to retain [primacy]. It depends on the area growing there and how well it can be utilized. But we are not at that point in time yet,” Sebesta said.
According to Sebesta, one of the determining factors of the Grand Parkway is the viability for a toll road, which comes from the potential for developable land.
“There is not developable property along that way [near Segment C],” Sebesta said. “Segment B is developable. Segment C will be more viable with more segments built out.”
Even with the developed land, Sebesta is unsure the toll roads will ever pay for themselves.
“I would hope that excess toll revenue from other segments that are exceeding expectations would be used to help pay for other toll segments,” Sebesta said.
This story is one update from The January Issue. View the full list of Top 5 stories to follow in 2018 here