METRO mulls park and rides near Boudreaux, Louetta roads

In its preliminary draft plan, METRO outlines improvements along the Hwy. 249 corridor that it says could reduce traffic congestion, including park and ride stations designed to incentivize more drivers along Hwy. 249 to carpool.

In its preliminary draft plan, METRO outlines improvements along the Hwy. 249 corridor that it says could reduce traffic congestion, including park and ride stations designed to incentivize more drivers along Hwy. 249 to carpool.

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The Big Picture
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Community Voices
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Commuter habits
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Funding metro
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The Tomball area could be getting a park and ride to help with increasing traffic congestion along the Hwy. 249 corridor based on a $7.5 billion Greater Houston area transit improvement plan in the works. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County released a draft of the first phase of its 2040 plan, METRONext, in late 2018. Billed as a way to prepare for future mobility needs, METRONext could result in a $3.5 billion bond referendum being placed on November ballots, METRO officials said. However, a bond has not been formally called, and the date and dollar amount are still being worked out as of press time.

The transit authority began collecting public feedback on the plan in January, and a METRO representative presented to the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce’s Mobility and Transportation Committee in mid-February. The main proposals in the Tomball area entail extending commuter bus services farther north along Hwy. 249, including construction of park and ride facilities in the Boudreaux Road and Louetta Road areas, according to METRO information.

“It’s very important we track where we see population growth, where we see job growth, and give people options [to] safely and efficiently move throughout the region,” METRO CEO Tom Lambert said.

If a bond election is called, it would not increase property taxes for Tomball-area residents, officials said. METRO is funded largely with sales tax revenue it collects throughout Harris County, including in unincorporated portions of the Tomball area.

METRO services are not proposed for the city of Tomball, as METRO does not collect sales tax revenue within city limits, Assistant City Manager David Esquivel said. As the city is outside the service area, community leaders are considering solutions to the lack of transit options in the city.

“We have to come up with a solution that’s outside the box,” said Jim Engelke, chairman of the Tomball chamber’s mobility and transportation committee.

Tomball-area improvements

The proposed Boudreaux and Louetta park and rides would offer nonstop bus service, such as to downtown, the Texas Medical Center and major employment areas, as existing park and rides do, according to METRO.
It would not be bus routes with intermittent stops, Engelke said.

“The prime benefits are going to be commute time is going to be shorter for people that need to go downtown, and you will have at some point connectivity to the high-speed rail proposed station and the airports,” he said.

The rationale for a Boudreaux park and ride is rapid population growth and the associated traffic congestion in northwest Harris County, said Clint Harbert, METRO vice president of systems and capital planning, in an email.

“We know that this area has been growing rapidly in terms of population,” he said. “This growth continues at a rapid pace throughout the plan years. It is important to begin planning for how the region will address the associated trips generated as a result of this growth.”

The total population of the nearby 77375 and 77377 ZIP codes grew 28 percent from 2010-17, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In relation, the number of average daily vehicles traversing Hwy. 249 just south of Holderrieth Road increased nearly 54 percent from 2013-17, while traffic counts grew 39 percent during that time on Hwy. 249 south of Spring Cypress Road, according to Texas Department of Transportation data.

“You can only build so many roadways, so we’ve got to get smart about how we manage [traffic],” Engelke said.

Details on the Boudreaux and Louetta park and rides, including cost and location, are still to be determined, officials said.

An existing bus route services Louetta Road at Hwy. 249. Ridership averaged 2,668 weekday boardings in January, an 11 percent increase from January 2015, according to METRO information.

In addition to two-way commuter bus service along Hwy. 249, a transit center in the Willowbrook area and two-way, high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Hwy. 249 between I-45 N. and Beltway 8 are also proposed, Harbert said. He said draft projections estimate ridership to total 2,400 daily trips by 2040 for all improvements in the
Hwy. 249 corridor.

A timeline released by METRO indicates the authority will continue to review public comments through July before the board makes a decision on whether to call for a bond package.

“The plan today is to have a referendum November 2019, but [board members] haven’t formally called that yet, so they’ll have to make that decision,” Lambert said.

Community perspectives

Residents near Boudreaux Road said they fear a park and ride would only add to traffic woes by buses traveling along the already-congested Hwy. 249.

“You’re talking about building something right in that area where all of our exits are already backed up onto the freeway [and] our feeder roads are loaded,” said Jane Skelton, a resident of Canyon Gate at Northpointe.

The Seton Lake Park and Ride is less than 12 miles away at Hwy. 249 and Beltway 8 and saw average weekday ridership in January increase 40 percent from 2015-19, according to METRO information.

Yet because of its proximity, some residents said they doubt how useful another park and ride would be.

“There’s [a park and ride] like 12 miles from that location [at Boudreaux Road], so I don’t see why they need another one that close,” Canyon Gate resident Kelly Hunt said, noting she uses the Seton Lake lot.

Elicia Moody, board member of the Villages of Northpointe Homeowner Association, said suburban residents are often accustomed to not having public transportation.

“[Driving] is part of the culture being out here. In order to live here, [residents have] already worked out the need for transportation,” she said. “There’s a period of time where it may get very underutilized until people either warm up to the idea or move out here because it’s available.”

Although METRO does not receive sales tax revenue within Tomball city limits, Engelke said METRO is a hot-button item for area residents.

“I think the benefits of having public transportation directly to downtown are outweighed by the increase in traffic, potential decrease in property values and the increase in transient people coming through the area,” Canyon Gate resident Pat Kennedy said.

For METRO services to cross into Tomball city limits, City Council members would have to vote to give up $0.01 of sales tax revenue to METRO, Esquivel said.

However, one benefit of a park and ride could be the resulting residential growth, Engelke said.

“It extends the ability for people to move farther out toward Tomball and Magnolia and still have a reasonable commute if they’re willing to take the public transportation,” he said.

Finding a solution

Despite some residential opposition to METRO, community leaders said the lack of transportation options in the area hinders opportunities for students, elderly residents and visitors.

A meeting of community leaders—including city, nonprofit and business leaders—has been in the works since last fall to discuss possible initiatives to filling the public transit gap within Tomball city limits, said Karen Guiles, community relations manager for Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries, which provides food, clothing and financial assistance to residents in need.

A meeting is tentatively set for April.

“It’s a communitywide issue, and we’re going to have to be creative in what kind of transportation we figure out,” she said.

The conversation has been ongoing between various individuals, she said, but no solution has been found as the problem goes beyond any one organization or individual. Solutions could range from an affordable rideshare program to private vans, Guiles and Engelke said.

“I do hope someday we get it figured out,” Guiles said.

Additional reporting by Vanessa Holt
By Anna Lotz

Editor, Tomball | Magnolia

Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in the Tomball and Magnolia communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.


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