Brazoria County Expressway sees more ridership than projected

The Brazoria County Expressway and the Hwy. 288 toll lanes in Harris County opened in November. (Courtesy Brazoria County)
The Brazoria County Expressway and the Hwy. 288 toll lanes in Harris County opened in November. (Courtesy Brazoria County)

The Brazoria County Expressway and the Hwy. 288 toll lanes in Harris County opened in November. (Courtesy Brazoria County)

Image description
Designed by Justin Howell
Image description
Designed by Justin Howell
When the Hwy. 288 toll road opened up in November and provided a fast lane into downtown Houston for Brazoria County residents, local officials were not sure of how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect the ridership.

“From what was projected and the unknowns of COVID-19, we have been pleasantly surprised by the ridership on the toll road,” Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta said.

The toll road has brought in more revenue than expected, despite ridership being down due to COVID-19. However, the increase in revenue does not necessarily mean the road, which cost Brazoria County $80 million, will be paid off early. The county plans on eventually expanding the Brazoria County Expressway 10 miles south of its limit at Croix Road as the population continues to grow, which will incur additional debt, Brazoria County Engineer Matt Hanks said.

“Debt will exist on the entire system much longer than the initial financing obtained for this current project if we are ever going to expand south,” Hanks said in an email.

COVID-19 affects ridership


Since it opened in November, the toll road has brought in $1.56 million in revenue for the county. The revenue from January and February was more than double what was projected for the same two months in 2019, when the toll road was originally slated to open, county officials said.

The 15-mile toll road is broken into two portions, controlled by both Brazoria County and the Texas Department of Transportation. The 5-mile portion that runs through Brazoria County from Croix to Clear Creek is known as the Brazoria County Expressway. Construction ended on the Brazoria County Expressway in the summer, but the toll road could not open until the Harris County portion of the toll road was completed.

The Harris County portion of the Hwy. 288 toll road is controlled by TxDOT and the Blue Ridge Transportation Group and was completed in November. It is over 10 miles long and runs from Clear Creek, which is the Harris-Brazoria county line, to Hwy. 59.

The rate for the Brazoria County portion of the toll road has remained the same since the toll road opened in November, Hanks said. Riding the Brazoria County portion of the tollway costs $1.80.

The Harris County portion, which is longer and has more toll booths, has raised the prices of the tolls since the start of 2021, two months after the road opened.

Northbound and southbound toll booths used to charge $0.45 or $0.50 a booth; as of April 1, the cost is $0.80 a booth. The connectors on to Beltway 8 used to cost $0.80 a connector; now, they cost $1.30 a booth. The connectors to Loop 610 used to charge $0.50 a booth; now they cost $0.80 a booth. To ride the entire Brazoria and Harris County portions of the toll road one way at peak hours, drivers would pay $9.50.

The county did a traffic and revenue study for the road in 2019, and ridership has been higher than projected. Even with the pandemic, ridership was high.

Hanks believes the toll road has been so successful due to the ease of ridership onto the Beltway and into the Texas Medical Center, he said. The design of the roadway makes it comfortable for residents to get onto the tollway, which also contributes to the road’s success, he said.

General traffic did dip during the pandemic. The lowest dip in traffic ridership due to COVID-19 was during the original two-week stay-at-home order, said Allie Isbell, transportation manager with the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

During the fall, ridership increased for rural counties but remained lower than usual for Harris County, Isbell said.

“Harris County, with fewer people coming into the urban core, central business district to work, that number remained lower,” Isbell said.

With less driving to the office, people are still taking shorter trips, she said.

“I think it’ll be a balance,” Isbell said. “They might be going back and forth to the grocery store during lunch when before it might have been on the way home. They might be going to the park for a walk during lunch. We are seeing more of those shorter trips.”

Paying for toll roads

Brazoria County has until 2050 to pay off the toll road. However, the toll road could be under construction again in the future for routine upkeep or a possible extension. Either option would add to the debt and the length of time to pay off the debt, Hanks said.

The Brazoria County Expressway was environmentally cleared in 2008, with the project set to run from the Harris-Brazoria county line at Clear Creek to its eventual intersection with the Grand Parkway. Construction on this segment of the Grand Parkway, Segment B, has not yet begun, but once it is built, it will run to where CR 60 in Brazoria County is today.

Were the fully approved Brazoria County Expressway constructed, it would be 15 miles long—three times longer than the existing Brazoria County portion of the roadway. This portion of the road is not financed.

“Debt may be required at some point in the future for improvements to the system and replacement of aging infrastructure,” Hanks said. “Therefore, in theory, a system such as this can be ‘paid off,’ but it takes a considerable amount of time and a number of factors to align before this can be obtained.”

Progress on the Grand Parkway segments has been slow. Despite this, Sebesta thinks there is a good chance the Segment B portion of the road will move forward, as the population wants it.

“For the Grand Parkway, there is a push to get a portion of Segment B done,” he said. “At some point, it will be completed, and that will likely bring some additional growth and some need to bring the managed lanes to that point.”

State Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, has sponsored House Bill 3968 in the Texas Legislature, which would allow residents to vote for whether they want a toll road in the area. The state has stopped TxDOT from presenting new toll roads; this would be an antidote to that, Thompson said.

“There’s a lot of communities out there that might be accepting of a toll road, but it’s sort of stuck in the process of TxDOT saying, ‘It’s a non-toll environment,’” he said.

Thompson is not sure the bill will be passed this legislative session, as it has not received a hearing as of early May. He is hoping it starts a conversation on the state level.

“We may not get anything done on this bill in this legislative session, but I think it is important we continue to have conversations and talk about this as our state continues to grow,” Thompson said.

The growth in Iowa Colony, Manvel and Rosharon as well as the growth on the horizon are good reasons to extend Hwy. 288, Thompson said.

“We’re looking at a population of 50 million people by 2050, and there are going to be areas of Texas that are going to grow that we have never heard of before,” he said.
By Haley Morrison
Haley Morrison came to Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after graduating from Baylor University. She was promoted to editor in February 2019. Haley primarily covers city government.


MOST RECENT

Taco Bueno sells tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos and more unique items, including the Muchaco, a taco made with a soft pita-like shell. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Taco Bueno coming to Katy and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Here are three hospitals near Pearland. (Community Impact Staff)
Health Care Edition: 3 hospitals near Pearland, Friendswood

Three hospitals near Pearland and Friendswood

Karen Alexander (right) said she and other University of Houston-Clear Lake nursing faculty have worked to ensure the mental well-being of their students as much as possible amid the pandemic. (Courtesy of UHCL)
'Accept, adapt and overcome': Health care workers adjust to challenges amid COVID-19

The realities of COVID-19 have led to the exacerbation of an already-present nursing shortage across the Texas Gulf Coast region, which includes Houston, local and regional experts said.

The Pearland Youth Movement is hosting the first Pride event in the city of Pearland. (Courtesy Pexels)
Pearland Youth Movement to host the city’s first Pride event this weekend, June 13

“We wanted to bring this visibility to the LGBTQ+ community, and we wanted to show them a safe space and make sure that they were supported,” Pearland Youth Movement President Vidya Muthupillai said

Those affected by COVID-19 may be able to get assistance with paying rent and utilities. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Brazoria County residents to have an opportunity for rental assistance

Those affected by COVID-19 may be able to get assistance with paying rent and utilities.

Intuitive Machines is based in Clear Lake. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Intuitive Machines expanding in Houston Spaceport

Houston officials have announced yet another development coming to the Houston Spaceport.

Both Pearland and Friendswood ISDs are exploring alternative health care options for the 2021-22 school year. (Courtesy Pexels)
Senate bill limits alternative health care options for school districts

Both Pearland and Friendswood ISDs are exploring alternative health care options for the 2021-22 school year.

During Friendswood City Council’s June 7 meeting, Chad Nobles, senior account executive for Ameresco, explained the advantages of upgrading the city’s water meters. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Friendswood will consider replacing every water meter in city to ensure accuracy

During Friendswood City Council’s June 7 meeting, Chad Nobles, senior account executive for Ameresco, explained the advantages of upgrading the city’s water meters.

Pearland ISD's board of trustees passed the budget for its 2021-22 school year at its June 8 meeting. (Community Impact Staff)
Pearland ISD board passes 2021-22 budget with contingency to revisit this fall

The district will revisit the budget once the school year has started and Pearland ISD has a better idea of the enrollment for the 2021-22 year.

Economist Elliot Eisenberg spoke about the economic recovery post-pandemic, saying this year's GDP growth will be the best since the 1950s. (Brooke Ontiveros/Community Impact Newspaper)
Economist explains housing demand, price booms in Texas, Greater Houston area

Eisenberg explained why home prices are rising at a June 9 Greater Houston Builders Association luncheon.

Officials with the Harris County Justice Administration Department said they identified racial disparities in citations and use of force by law enforcement, among other areas. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County identifies racial disparities in use of force, citations from law enforcement agencies

Analysis in the report included racial demographics in instances of consent search, contraband discovery, traffic stops that led to arrests, types of citations or warnings, and use of force.