Residents and officials in The Woodlands area are voicing concerns regarding a proposed $40 million expansion of Hwy. 242 and what it could mean for the neighborhoods it would pass through.

The project, proposed by the Texas Department of Transportation, could see Hwy. 242 expanded between FM 1488 and I-45 North by adding an additional lane in each direction, increasing the total number of lanes from four to six as well as adding three detention ponds and sound walls alongside the highway.

However, residents in the Village of Alden Bridge are expressing concerns for pedestrian safety with the extension along with opposition to the sound walls.

Maryann Braid, president of the Alden Bridge Village Association, said the biggest concerns are regarding the intersection of Gosling Road and Hwy. 242 west to FM 1488.

“I have not heard one positive [remark] from any of the residents that I have spoken to,” Braid said. “The Windvale area of Alden Bridge is on the north side and south side of Hwy. 242. ... The feeling I have gotten from everybody that I have spoken to that has concerns is that ... it is mostly all residential except for the Alden Bridge Sports Park. Nothing else will be added on either side of the road to increase traffic or stop in that area.”

Information from a June 16 TxDOT virtual meeting cited a need for the project due to congestion, travel delays and high crash rates in the area with a yearly average of 927 crashes on the intersection of Hwy. 242 and Gosling Road from 2017-19.

However, area residents said they worry adding the additional two lanes will make the crossing more difficult and dangerous for the Windvale community. Windvale resident Tom Chumbley said he thinks there are parts of the project that make sense, but he has concerns about the proposed changes.

“For people who live right here, ... they came to The Woodlands in part because of the quality of life and standards they have [here],” Chumbley said. “The state should be working with locals. I am very concerned ... [TxDOT] have made up their mind about what they are going to do regardless of the discussions they have had with people.”

Scope of the project

According to TxDOT’s June 16 virtual presentation, construction on the 4.4-mile project is anticipated to begin in fall 2023.

If completed as proposed, Hwy. 242 will consist of six 12-foot lanes alongside 10-foot-wide shoulders, and the median will be reduced from 44 feet to 22 feet. To address drainage, TxDOT proposed three detention ponds to be constructed totaling 21.2 acres.

Along with TxDOT’s project, a Houston-Galveston Area Council mobility study with Montgomery County Precinct 2 that has been ongoing since 2020 has identified projects to be completed along Hwy. 242, including adding turn lanes at the intersection of Hwy. 242 and FM 1488, restriping parts of the highway, installing a shared-use path and changing signal timing.

The H-GAC and Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley declined to comment on the proposed project as of Sept. 6.

TxDOT Public Information Officer Emily Black said the widening project aims to address congestion and travel delays, to lower crash rates and improve safety. Average daily traffic counts have risen at Hwy. 242 and FM 1488 since 2017, increasing from 15,767 in 2017 to 16,922 in the most recent report for 2021, with a spike in 2019 at 18,000 prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

The virtual presentation stated that once completed, the project will promote safety by “updating the roadway to current design standards.”

Following the public comment period that closed Aug. 15, Black said the comments would be made public in around three months.

The TxDOT presentation stated the project is consistent with the H-GAC’s long-range transportation plan and will be funded by the state.

TxDOT said it will conduct an environmental study to determine the potential environmental impacts to ensure the project falls within designated state guidelines.

Community concerns

The Woodlands Township Director Shelley Sekula-Gibbs said she has heard concerns from residents about the amount of traffic the project could bring through The Woodlands as well as how it could change some of the area aesthetics if the proposed sound walls are installed along the highway.

“The traffic is coming from outside of The Woodlands. ... The Woodlands should not be a relief valve for traffic congestion on FM 1488,” Sekula-Gibbs said. “Widening Hwy. 242 will encourage more traffic to divert from FM 1488. ... More cut-through traffic will only worsen the bottleneck on Hwy. 242 and I-45.”

In addition to the proposal from TxDOT to widen Hwy. 242, Montgomery County Precinct 2 presented its mobility study Aug. 4 that includes a recommendation to widen FM 1488 from FM 2978 to I-45. The project would be part of an estimated total $3.6 billion in projects needed over the next 11 or more years, according to county officials.

However, Sekula-Gibbs said she believes the projects did not address what she felt was a key need.

“I do not think there is a lot to recommend this particular project that either H-GAC and Montgomery County Precinct 2 and TxDOT are offering,” Sekula-Gibbs said. “Neither one of them is going to address the problem. The problem is the intersection of Hwy. 242 and I-45.”

Sekula-Gibbs added the communities that will be the most affected by the changes to Hwy. 242 will be the villages of Alden Bridge and College Park.

Braid said she attended TxDOT presentations where residents could submit questions, and the topic has been discussed at village association meetings in the past several months.

“My big question is: How is TxDOT looking at the questions from residents?” Braid said.Alden Bridge resident Vivian Fridley-Hereford said she is concerned for area families who use nearby amenities.

“A six-lane highway is dangerous. The current grassy median with trees is a stopover in the middle of [Hwy.] 242 so that when crossing, we can stop to assess traffic before making our way to the other side,” Fridley-Hereford said. “Six lanes encourage drivers to pass each other to get ahead of the pack, endangering pedestrians and bikers.”

She said she has compiled a list of concerns and has been in contact with multiple entities, including The Woodlands Township, Montgomery County Precinct 2 and the H-GAC as well as state legislators Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-The Woodlands. She said the township has worked with residents to ensure their voices are heard.

“The Woodlands Township board and the Alden Bridge Village Association have listened closely to the community, questioned the project, communicated with legislators and TxDOT officials, and stood beside residents when challenging the project,” Fridley-Hereford said in an email.

As of Sept. 1, TxDOT stated it had no additional comments in response to resident concerns.

Environmental concerns

Area residents have additionally spoken out regarding the proposed sound walls amid concerns for wildlife in the nearby W.G. Jones State Forest.

“The wall will not be popular with anyone; they do not have them here,” Chumbley said. “It would be an eyesore, and it would be harmful to the animals that would cross through here.”Connor Murnane, district forester for W.G. Jones State Forest, said his understanding of the proposal is the changes will remain within the existing right of way, and the Texas A&M Forest Service had no concerns regarding the effect of the project on the forest as of Sept. 6.

Braid said her concerns with the sound walls are regarding the damage they could cause to the local foliage.“There are a lot of people in The Woodlands that do not think sound walls are appropriate here,” she said. “There are questions about how the sound walls could damage the trees or vegetation around the area.”

Sekula-Gibbs said as of late August, she was cautiously optimistic about TxDOT hearing area residents’ concerns on the project.

“It would be totally out of character for The Woodlands,” she said. “The hope is they will listen to us in that regard.”

Sekula-Gibbs said she is encouraging The Woodlands residents to remain engaged throughout the process as it continues.

“We want TxDOT to improve the roads and reduce collisions, ... but widening the roads that approach [the intersections on I-45] will not help. I think that has to be clarified and emphasized,” she said.