Residents urge Shenandoah City Council to rescind resolution of support for proposed Research Forest Drive underpass

Several residents addressed Shenandoah City Council asking council members to rescind a previously approved resolution in support of a proposed Research Forest Drive underpass during its Sept. 12 meeting, following a town hall meeting to discuss the citywide thoroughfare plan, Sept. 5.

Project history
Montgomery County, The Woodlands Township, The Woodlands Road Utility District No. 1 and Shenandoah have been in talks for several years regarding improvements to the intersection of Research Forest Drive and Grogans Mill Road.

According to city officials, although the intersection does not fall within Shenandoah city limits, the county had previously proposed an $8.5 million overpass, which, if built, would cross into Shenandoah’s jurisdiction. With a say in the matter of an overpass, the council previously opposed the proposed overpass.

“We don’t actually control that intersection,” Council Member Mike McLeod said. “But this council has actually taken a number of steps to reduce traffic and specifically, to reduce thru-traffic as we made our thoroughfare plan and we joined it with the Montgomery County [thoroughfare plan]. There had been a planned overpass—we’ve taken that out of our plan… we redesignated many of our roads that had been designated as 'collectors' into 'local' roads to encourage people to remember that we are a residential community.”

The council then looked into a “T” intersection option and had engineering work completed for that design. However, according to Mayor Ritch Wheeler, the $8 million project would only grade a “D” in intersection level of service, according to Brown & Gay Engineers, Inc., which completed the study, meaning the other entities involved would not approve the design.

With the Shenandoah City Council not on board for an overpass at Research Forest Drive and Grogans Mill Road, and the other entities not in support of a “T” intersection, county officials came back to Shenandoah with an alternative option—an underpass.

While still not within Shenandoah’s city limits, the $14 million project would be funded through the county and would run east to west on Research Forest Drive, beneath Grogans Mill Road. The intersection would still have the existing grade-level lanes for drivers to use in the event of flooding.

“The underpass… is a direct line on Research Forest Drive… to keep traffic flow on Research Forest Drive,” Council Member Ted Fletcher said. “It’s not about widening Grogans Mill [Road] or creating more traffic for Grogans Mill [Road.”

The council agreed that an underpass would be better than the alternative overpass option and directed City Attorney William Ferebee to draft a resolution of support for the underpass on May 9, to help the project’s odds of received funding through the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Improvement Program.

“The resolution of support that was voted on by council was on the May 9 agenda,” Wheeler said. “During that council meeting, we had two citizens forums, just like we always do, [which] would have been a great opportunity for anybody who had questions or comments about that resolution of support to come to that meeting and discuss that. We could have given some very clear reasons as to why we were issuing that resolution of support.”

The resolution came back to council for action May 23. One resident spoke against the item during the second citizens forum of the meeting, after the resolution had already been unanimously approved by council.

Recent feedback
Shenandoah held a town hall meeting Sept. 5 to update residents on the fiber internet project and the citywide thoroughfare plan, which included information on the David Memorial Drive extension project and the proposed Research Forest Drive underpass.

A week later, during the Sept. 12 Shenandoah City Council meeting, six residents addressed the council during the citizens forum portion of the meeting in opposition of the proposed Research Forest Drive underpass.

Several residents said their concerns had to do with maintaining the appeal of the surrounding residential area, which includes several neighborhoods both in Shenandoah and the Woodlands.

“The impact of this will be devastating to the residential communities lining Grogans Mill—six in Shenandoah, six in The Woodlands,” resident Bonnie Flynn said. “Grogans Mill [Road] on the north side of Research [Forest Drive] is a residential area; it should not become a mini freeway. I would hope that our elected council members would take our trepidation seriously and actively pursue other solutions.”

Resident Alex Warmath said he feels the traffic problems could be solved by addressing other intersections in the area.

“The real key issues reside on Lake Woodlands [Drive] at I-45 and Research [Forest Drive] and I-45,” Warmath said. “I commute through that intersection 20-30 times every week at Research [Forest Drive] and Grogans Mill [Road]. Putting a fix at Research [Forest Drive] and Grogans Mill [Road] isn’t the answer.”

During last night’s meeting, Jean Teague, a resident and former council member, called for the council to rescind the previously approved resolution, which was voted upon four months ago.

“We respectfully and formally request that you rescind, retract and repeal the resolution of support for the underpass at Research Forest [Drive] and Grogan’s Mill [Road], which you unanimously approved on May 23, 2018,” Teague said. “You have directed us to other entities and we are prepared to take our opposition to a higher level, but we wanted to first begin with this body.”

City Administrator Kathie Reyer said that the council could rescind the resolution if they choose to do so, however, staff has not been directed to bring the item to a future agenda as of Sept. 13.

The proposed project may be submitted for the H-GAC Call for TIP projects 2018, which opened Sept. 4 and will close Oct. 31 at 5 p.m. If the project is approved for funding, funding would be allocated between 2019-2028.

Other business
• In a 3-2 vote, the council approved a special use permit to allow for tourist accommodations at 18484 I-45 S., Shenandoah.
The new hotel will be a five-story Hampton Inn & Suites, owned by local business owner Grace Jacobson, who also owns the existing Hampton Inn at 18484 I-45 S., Shenandoah, which has since closed.

This was Jacobson’s third time to apply for a special use permit for the new hotel. Jacobson’s first request was approved by council in 2016, however it expired, and her second request was denied in 2017.

The special use permit was approved by council Sept. 12 with the stipulations that the hotel had to be Hampton Inn & Suites and it had to include an onsite bar and bistro.

• The council unanimously adopted the proposed fiscal year 2018-19 budget, as outlined in the agenda packet.
The budget includes a general fund revenue of $9,113,621 and general fund expenses totaling to $10,205,000, which includes $1.15 million for the fiber internet project, which will be paid out of reserves.

To read more about the proposed 2018-19 budget, click here.

• The council unanimously adopted a 2018 ad valorem tax rate for maintenance and operations of $0.0810 per $100 valuation and a 2018 ad valorem tax rate for debt service of $0.0989 per $100 valuation.
The two tax rates combined equal a total property tax rate of $0.1799 per $100 valuation, which is lower than the effective tax rate of $0.1809 per $100 valuation.

Shenandoah’s property tax rate in 2017 was $0.2099 per $100 valuation.

To view the entire Sept. 12 agenda packet, click here.
By Hannah Zedaker

Editor, Spring/Klein & Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood

Hannah joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. In March 2019, she transitioned to editor of the Spring/Klein edition and later became the editor of both the Spring/Klein and Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood editions in June 2021. Hannah covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Hannah served as associate editor of The Houstonian, interned with Community Impact Newspaper and spent time writing for the Sam Houston State University College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication and The Huntsville Item.