Concerned residents and business owners pushed back against preliminary FM 2920 improvement plans at a March 31 town hall meeting in Tomball, citing a desire to protect local businesses and preserve the small town feel of Tomball.
The town hall was held to discuss the city’s potential contract with the Texas Department of Transportation to reconstruct and improve FM 2920 from Hwy. 249 to Willow Street. The full room of residents that were packed out into the hallway questioned the project due to changing accessibility to businesses with raised medians, diverting traffic into residential areas and wanting to keep a small town feel in the city.
The $28.61 million dollar project will be federally funded by a grant as well as funds from TxDOT and the city of Tomball—which has already set aside $3 million for the project. It would take less than two years to complete and aims to reduce crashes, improve mobility and provide safer pedestrian access, according to the town hall presentation.
“This project is to reconstruct the four-lane roadway with a raised median in key locations, provide additional drainage and signal improvements, and to improve pedestrian access,” TxDOT representative Catherine McCreight said at the meeting. “The purpose of the project is to reduce crashes, to improve mobility and to provide for safer pedestrian accommodations.”
McCreight said based on crashes and an FM 2920 access management study, she believes Tomball needs the project to remove on-street parking and provide off-street parking; introduce raised medians for pedestrian refuge; consolidate driveways; and improve sidewalks, traffic signals and street signage.
The presentation of the project was cut short due to attendees asking questions before the public comment portion of the meeting. Residents and business owners expressed concern over raised medians cutting off access to businesses that are still recovering from COVID-19.
“I’m concerned that pedestrians are not getting a great experience and full access with a median down the center down the road, and [I'm concerned about] how that will impact the businesses—not only along Main Street, but also those of us, like myself, [who] are right of Main Street—by cutting off access to side streets that come down to businesses like mine,” said Natalie Kirtley, owner of Kirtley and Company, in an interview.
Other residents said they were concerned with parking and traffic access during construction being diverted to residential areas. Another concern was losing the small town charm of Tomball, with residents saying they like the current downtown environment.
“What I think TxDOT is looking at is that it's a street, and we’re a part of a very long highway, for sure, but we are the only town [that is] a part of that highway, and I think we should be treated as a town and not a highway,” Kirtley said.
McCreight responded to concerns, citing crashes and safety as the reason the medians will ultimately help, and said the improvements will give Tomball a “signature” look.
City Manager David Esquivel said at the meeting the contract and project are not set in stone. He also said in an email that City Council will discuss the project at its April 4 meeting but will not be voting on approving the contract, but rather discussing different options and safety measures for the project.
Community Impact Newspaper will update the story with additional comments from city officials.