The project is widening Rayford from four to six lanes between Richards Road and the Grand Parkway as well as adding a bridge over the Union Pacific Corp. railroad tracks east of Richards. According to Precinct 3, the changes are designed to address mobility and safety concerns along Rayford heightened by the area’s overcapacity road conditions and thousands of news residents added from 2013 to 2018.
“The fact is that the residential and commercial growth along the Rayford Road corridor from Interstate 45 all the way to east of the Grand Parkway is brisk. Residential developers and businesses are thriving, bringing more traffic and the need for improved mobility,” said Andy DuBois, Precinct 3 projects and logistics manager, in an email.
The project was funded by $60 million from the county’s 2015 road bond, including $26.7 million for road construction awarded to builders Smith & Co. in 2017 and $2.84 million in additional change orders.
A growing corridor
Development along Rayford has continued since construction began in April 2017, including at least 20 business and restaurant openings within the project limits, according to business listings published by Community Impact Newspaper from spring 2017 to January 2020.
Despite the presence of many new storefronts, some retailers and residents said they believe byproducts of the Rayford project, such as lane closures and traffic congestion, have deterred visitors from driving and shopping along Rayford.
“Travel has been a nightmare on Rayford Road since construction started,” said Kaeleigh Jordan, a longtime area resident and administrator of the Rayford Road Round Up community Facebook page.
Robert Hall, the manager of Bulldog’s Pizza at 2021 Rayford Road, Spring, said he will welcome the project’s completion due to its effects on his restaurant over the past year.
“I believe it’s definitely going to help; however, it’s still slowed business. And they’re still not done, so business is still slow,” Hall said.
Francis Uzcategui, owner of Fran’s Bakery at the 1810 Rayford Road food truck park, said her customer base has noticeably declined during construction. She also said the road’s new concrete median at West Hawthorne Drive, designed as a safety feature for left turns, now prevents many drivers from entering the park.
J.J. Hollie, president and chief executive officer of The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes the county project will create a more accessible business environment along the Rayford Road corridor by addressing the tipping point of congestion and safety that occurred along the road this decade, despite issues such improvements can cause in the short term.
“It is a huge growing pain for any business that is faced with construction right at their front door, and it can be devastating to a business. ... On the flip side, if anyone’s ever traveled up and down Rayford Road, you know how jam-packed it is with traffic and how dangerous it is. That affects peoples’ buying decisions,” Hollie said. “This is a huge project on Rayford Road, so it’s taking a long time, but you hope that they’re able to weather that storm and then be able to succeed whenever there’s increased traffic flow in the area.”
DuBois said Precinct 3 worked across several platforms to keep residents up to date on construction-related news.
“The commissioner’s office has continued to communicate progress, updates and major road/intersection closures through the precinct’s monthly newsletter; press releases to the media ... emails to homeowners associations/property management groups, door hangers and direct contact,” DuBois said.
The county’s approved contract for the project allotted Smith & Co. 540 business days for the project, with 20 more added due to change orders, totaling nearly 26 months of construction given ideal working conditions. DuBois said the project’s initially projected summer 2019 end date was pushed to 2020 by weather factors including Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
“With continuously perfect weather, and no rain for two-plus years, mid-2019 would have been a reasonable target date. However, we live in reality—and Southeast Texas,” DuBois said in an email. “There have been 265 days with recorded rainfall since this project started, resulting in 88 weather days, so basically 18 weeks, or almost five months of work, lost due to weather.”
Harmony resident Preston Davis said he reopened his Millie’s Southern Cuisine truck at the food truck park in 2019 following a business hiatus caused by Hurricane Harvey. Since arriving on Rayford last spring, Davis said he experienced issues that contributed to his needing to close his business last fall.
“Hurricane Harvey, that hurt me financially, personally and with my business. And this was kind of almost the same thing business-wise, because I lost a lot of money,” Davis said.