Fort Bend County commissioners are considering a roughly $217 million mobility bond issue to fund transportation-related projects throughout the county. Commissioners have until Aug. 21 to decide whether they will ask voters in the coming November election to approve the bond issue.
County officials have put together a list of 63 potential projects to be funded with the money if voters approve the bond issue, which county officials said will not require a property tax increase. Of those potential projects, 34 are located in or near Sugar Land and Missouri City.
The most expensive project under consideration calls for expanding Beechnut Street from just east of Ashton Brook Lane to Peek Road, according to county documents. Another project that could ease congestion calls for a park and ride facility to be put on land that would be purchased somewhere in Precinct 4.
The county last called for a bond election to fund transportation projects in 2013, but continued population growth and land development in the county led officials to begin considering another one soon after.
“Some commissioners wanted to have a bond issue last year,” Precinct 4 Commissioner James Patterson said.
In Precinct 2, which encompasses much of Missouri City, 16 projects are included on that list while 18 projects are being considered for Precinct 4, which encompasses much of Sugar Land.
Both precincts have a need to build roads that connect existing roadways already built by private developers as part of specific development projects, commissioners said.
Two major projects under consideration in Precinct 4 are the installation of adaptive, or strategically timed, traffic signals along Hwy. 90 from Harlem Road to Hwy. 59, slated to cost $400,000, and another park and ride location to service commuters in the county, which would cost $1 million.
“It’s about filling in those gaps,” Patterson said. “The focus is on projects that move people throughout the county.”
Patterson said the goal for Hwy. 90 is to have traffic signals timed so they allow more traffic to flow toward Houston in the morning, and away from Houston in the afternoon. In addition, the lights will be synced with the Union Pacific railroad crossings along Hwy. 90, Patterson said.
Patterson could not provide specific possible locations for the proposed park and ride, but he said the county’s goal is to place it somewhere between Hwy. 90 and the Westpark Tollway. Patterson was unable to say how far east or west it might be located.
Patterson said no decisions have been made on what routes buses servicing a new park and ride location will take.
“Chevron and the Downtown Management District are after us to set up a route to downtown,” he said.
Buses servicing other park and ride locations in the county travel to Houston’s Medical Center, Greenway Plaza and the Galleria.
Prestage said traffic reduction is a pressing need in Precinct 2.
“I hear people say they used to be able to make a quick trip wherever they needed to go, but now it takes much longer because of traffic,” he said.
One of the projects under consideration in Precinct 2 is a sidewalk building program, with $4 million earmarked for sidewalk work.
Prestage said most of the money would be used to build new sidewalks, and some would be used to repair existing sidewalks.
Projects involve partners
If commissioners move ahead with the bond election—and voters approve it in November—it would be the county’s fourth mobility bond issue since 2000. The county’s most recent transportation bond was issued in 2013, and it raised $184.9 million.
Many of the projects slated to be funded with the bond proceeds are projects in which construction costs will be shared with a local municipality.
“We don’t go to cities and say, ‘We think you should do this or that,’” Patterson said. “Cities come to us and propose projects.”
Usually, in such interlocal agreements, the city will manage the project and will pay for preconstruction expenses, such as design and engineering work, and the county will issue funds for half the construction costs when payment for such work is due.
“The best way to do it is … by identifying projects, by working with the city involved and by negotiating an effective interlocal agreement,” County Judge Robert Hebert said.
Of the 63 projects under consideration for inclusion in a November bond referendum, 25 are such joint projects, where the county would partner with either a city or another entity, such as the Texas Department of Transportation, to get the project built.
The important thing about such joint projects, Patterson said, is to make sure both parties are clear about details and time frames.
Although the county is considering a new bond referendum, some projects approved from prior bond issues have not started. A plan to rehabilitate parts of Beechnut Boulevard never moved forward because details still need to be finalized with a private developer, according to county documents.
“Many projects are regional in nature and require coordination between the county, local cities and other agencies,” said Doug Adolph, Sugar Land assistant director of communications. “Mobility continually ranks among the top priorities of our residents. It is important that we work together to ensure a collaborative approach that addresses our regional mobility needs.”
Fort Bend officials said at a Commissioners Court meeting in June the county could issue up to $220 million in bonds without having to increase the property tax rate.
Prestage said the tax rate will not need to increase because future development will provide the revenue with which to make payments on the bonds.
“Property values are going up, and more land is being bought and developed,” Prestage said. “That new revenue will be there to pay for debt service going forward. The improvements we’re making will spur further increases in value.”
When government bodies need to raise money for roads, police stations and the like, bonds are issued and sold to the public to fund such projects.
“Issuing a bond is borrowing money, and we cannot obligate future taxpayers to service that debt without first getting permission from voters,” Prestage said.“These are very expensive projects. The county doesn’t have $217 million laying around for projects.”