I-69 and Hwy. 90A roadway improvements to ease congestion in Richmond

Construction workers along I-69 are adding additional lanes and access ramps in each direction through the Richmond area.

Construction workers along I-69 are adding additional lanes and access ramps in each direction through the Richmond area.

Two main arteries running through Richmond—I-69/Hwy. 59 and Hwy. 90A—are undergoing widening and improvement projects that will continue through 2019, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. The increased access has opened the door for development along I-69.

“Transportation improvements are important for development. You’re always going to have some shortcomings [in the short term], but in the long run you hope it improves business,” said Rob Tobias, city of Richmond economic development director.

With TxDOT projects along I-69 and Hwy. 90A now underway, the city of Richmond has negotiated a partnership agreement with the George Foundation to create a new development zone on the foundation’s property at the intersection of I-69 and FM 762. [totalpoll id="192251"]

“For seven years, we worked with TxDOT to secure five access points along [I-69],” George Foundation CEO Roger Adamson said.

The George Foundation owns 328 acres of undeveloped land in the Richmond area, mainly along I-69 and Rabbs Bayou. Adamson said the new off-ramps increase accessibility and enable more development on the south side of Richmond.

“Once construction is complete, we think that will continue to ignite growth,” Adamson said.

Counting cars

Travel demand models from the Houston-Galveston Area Council show traffic volumes across the Greater Houston area increasing by more than 60 percent in their 2040 regional forecast. In addition to personal traffic, the number of trucks carrying consumer goods is also increasing, according to H-GAC.

“In general, the traffic increases [in Greater Houston] between now and 2040 are between 60 and 65 percent, and goods movement increases 100 percent—that grows faster than people traveling in their cars,” H-GAC Transportation Planning Director Alan Clark said.

Clark said H-GAC runs traffic volume projection reports for each TxDOT widening project under consideration. The 2025 projections for Hwy. 90A show a 42 percent increase in traffic at the Grand Parkway junction, and an increase of 26 percent heading into Richmond. Along I-69 the traffic volume in Richmond jumps 35 percent by 2025.

The I-69 project will add two dedicated HOV lanes and two additional regular lanes in each direction between FM 762 and Hwy. 6 to help alleviate congestion. The Hwy. 90A project is part of a larger widening and drainage improvement project that stretches from Hwy. 6 to Loop 762. New railroad crossings will be constructed, along with improved drainage and an additional lane in each direction.

The improvements are funded and will be conducted in phases, according to TxDOT, with projects like an elevated intersection at FM 359 wrapping up in late 2018.

The right of way from Pitts Road to the city limit has already been cleared to make way for construction, which has created a maze of orange traffic guards in front of local businesses.

“With [construction along Hwy.] 90A going on, you have many businesses already concerned about [access during construction]. They’re concerned about the accessibility and visibility of their sites. We have to work through that and be supportive and keep track of how accessibility is impacting their businesses,” Tobias said.

One affected business is Pier 36 Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar. Owner Jimmy Cantu opened the restaurant a decade ago, and it sits near the corner of Hwy. 90A and FM 359 where the new bridge intersection will be built.

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“It has affected [us] a little bit at lunch. There have been several days where it’s down to one lane of traffic. We get a lot of business from the courthouse, so it cuts down on those people. They’re not going to sit in traffic when they have an hour for lunch,” Cantu said.

The restaurant is well-established and regulars have made the extra detours and U-turns to get around construction barricades, he said.

“Overall, it’s a good thing. It’s progress, and it’ll help mobility in the long run. It’s just growing pains,” he said.

Spurring development

Despite the short-term construction challenges, the increased access offered by road widening and improved side roads does lead to additional business opportunities for landowners like the George Foundation, Adamson said.

“We’re a charitable trust, so our goal is to leverage that asset. First, from a business perspective, to generate new cash flow to continue our charitable mission,” Adamson said. “We can’t develop [land as a foundation, for tax reasons], but we partner with developers to develop that property to create an income stream for our giving. Second, it’s a value-added [commodity] for the community.”

Adamson said the foundation worked with the city to develop standards that provide design flexibility while enabling the foundation to respond to market demands.

Richmond is in a unique position, Tobias said, because local nonprofit foundations own the majority of undeveloped land in the area.

“We have a couple of foundations in town that own a significant amount of land, and they understand the importance of developing their properties in a responsible, quality manner,” Tobias said.

The foundations reinvest 5 percent of their assets back into the community, he said.

“If today, the George Foundation owns $300 million in assets and the goal through the I-69 development is to create an asset base that takes them to half a billion [dollars], [then] that’s a long-term investment,” Tobias said.

Adamson said several developers have approached the foundation since the I-69 construction began. The foundation is moving forward on an initial partnership at I-69 and FM 762 to bring in a mixed-use development anchored by H-E-B, and there are plans to turn a section of Rabbs Bayou into a water feature.

Adamson said the foundation aims to partner with developers on mixed-use commercial and residential space with the potential to bring in a corporate campus or destination retailer. The design could be similar to The Woodlands Town Center to mirror the historic look and feel of downtown Richmond.

“[The Woodlands Town Center] feels like it’s old and it’s walkable and that’s what we’d like to build,” Adamson said.

With 328 acres of vacant land to develop, Adamson said the foundation's property along I-69 could take up to 15-years to build out.

“Part of that is the market,” he said. “Demand has to be there, but also our goal is not to put up as many strip centers as possible but to create an economic center.”

As the Richmond area grows, Tobias said maintaining a high quality of life is vital as developers approach the foundation and the city with projects.

“Everyone’s trying to get to the concept of ‘live, work, play, learn,’” Tobias said. “You’ve got to have all those options available wherever you have commercial development.

“We don’t have thousands of acres to develop in Richmond; we have hundreds of acres. You have to make sure what you develop is the best use of that land, and that it’s going to be a long-term, committed, sustainable development.”