Updated Jan. 13 at 5 p.m.
Read our latest update on Grand Parkway segments F-1 and F-2 here.
Posted Jan. 13 at 8:10 a.m.
Visions of a third outer loop around the Greater Houston area will soon be one substantial step closer to becoming a reality.
On Dec. 28, Zachry-Odebrecht Parkway Builders announced Grand Parkway segments F-1, F-2 and G are scheduled to open to traffic in the first quarter of 2016 with no specific opening date set. Zachry-Odebrecht is the engineering and construction team for F-1, F-2 and G.
“The project did encounter setbacks particularly with the heavy rains during the months of May and June,” said Ibette Cavazos, Zachry-Odebrecht Parkway Builders public information officer. “Both Harris and Montgomery counties were included in presidential and gubernatorial disaster declarations issued for flooding events, which began [in] early May 2015.”
Segments F-1 and F-2—24 miles of tolled roadway from Hwy. 290 to I-45—were originally slated to open by the end of 2015 with portions of Segment G, between I-45 and Hwy. 59, following in early 2016, said David Gornet, Grand Parkway Association executive director. The GPA is a nonprofit formed by the Texas Department of Transportation to facilitate the roadway’s development.
The full project consists of 11 segments spanning 184 miles. With the completion of segments F-1, F-2 and G, 71 miles of the Grand Parkway will be open to drivers, which will connect Hwy. 59 South to Hwy. 59 North.
Deadline challenges, sound walls
Heavy rains have slowed construction progress on F-2, especially along the underpass at FM 2920, Gornet said.
“[In October and November], we had rain that flooded the hole [underneath FM 2920],” Gornet said. “After heavy rain, the workers have to pump it out and flush the silt. It slows them down from getting to the other work.”
Land acquisition has also been an obstacle as some property owners with tracts along the planned Grand Parkway route have been reluctant to settle on a price for their properties, Gornet said.
“Buying right of way took more time [than originally thought],” he said. “Some folks on the bigger tracts were concerned they weren’t getting proper returns and got attorneys involved. [Landowners] signed off on possession and use agreements, which let [TxDOT] build the road but gives them the right to argue about the payments later.”
Despite construction delays, F-1, F-2 and G reached a significant milestone in December, according to a Zachry-Odebrecht press release. Since beginning construction in July 2013, Zachry-Odebrecht has completed all of the beam and bridge deck settings for the segments.
Part of the finishing touches involves building sound barriers along the tollway. Communities are selected to receive a potential sound barrier after TxDOT completes a sound analysis for any projects that add capacity to the road. Property owners who live adjacent to a potential sound barrier must approve the measure.
Fifteen sound barriers have been approved and are under construction along the three segments, TxDOT officials said. Communities in the Tomball area, such as Inverness Estates, Three Lakes East and Northern Point, will receive the sound mitigation structures in the coming months. However, two sound wall proposals were rejected when the Forest North and Mossy Oaks South communities voted against the measure.
Along F-1 from Hwy. 290 to Hwy. 249, one sound wall will be constructed in the area near the master-planned community of Fairfield; however, no other noise barriers are planned yet, Gornet said.
Although the new Grand Parkway segments have yet to open to drivers, developers are already looking to capitalize on the traffic the tollway is expected to generate.
“We are receiving an influx of communications from prospective developers asking questions about when the road will be completed,” said George Grantham, TxDOT’s project manager for the three segments. “There are some very recognizable names.”
The opening of the Tomball Tollway Phase 1 last April and the pending completion of segments F-1 and F-2 of the Grand Parkway have dramatically increased developer interest in the Tomball area, said Kelly Violette, Tomball Economic Development Corporation executive director.
“One of the questions I get a lot when I’m meeting with prospective companies either from other areas of the state or outside of the state is, ‘How long is it going to take me and my workers to get to the area?’” Violette said. “The Grand Parkway really changes and impacts us from an economic development standpoint as far as being able to attract companies here.”
The 63-acre Grand Parkway Town Center is a new large-scale retail and restaurant development set to break ground in mid-2016 near the Grand Parkway and Hwy. 249, NewQuest Properties Vice President Brad Elmore said.
“It’s going to be really easy to access the site from any side of the freeway,” Elmore said. “We’ll have a fully encompassed road system.”
“[The Grand Parkway is] a game changer. It’s just incredible when you start looking at the ability to move around this region not only from the standpoint of getting to the airport but also as a company that needs to move their goods and services.”
—Kelly Violette, Tomball Economic Development Corporation executive director
In addition, the city’s first extended-stay hotel, Residence Inn by Marriott, is slated to break ground near Medical Complex Drive and Hwy. 249 in late 2016, Violette said.
A 614-acre future multiuse commercial and industrial space is also on the drawing board for future development along Hwy. 249 near Humble Road in Tomball.
“[The Grand Parkway is] a game changer,” Violette said. “It’s just incredible when you start looking at the ability to move around this region not only from the standpoint of getting to the airport but also as a company that needs to move their goods and services.”
Harris County officials asked TxDOT to take the county’s Regional Thoroughfare Plan into account when constructing the Grand Parkway to accommodate future roads. As a result, certain parts of the roadway were built to eventually accommodate new access points depending on future traffic volumes, including the Hwy. 249 intersection, Gornet said.
“We predicted future demand as best as we could to accommodate every need we could identify, but as the roadway opens up, we may see some future ramps or connections,” Grantham said. “As the need and funding becomes available, TxDOT will be there to assist in the environmental approval process and in making sure everything is appropriately connected to the Grand Parkway.”
Members of the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce Mobility and Transportation Committee stressed a need for flyovers from the Grand Parkway to Hwy. 249 at a Dec. 8 meeting. The flyovers would help prevent drivers from clogging the feeder roads, Chamber President Bruce Hillegeist said.
“We were told, ‘You need 15,000 cars per day [to plan for a flyover],’” Hillegeist said. “That’s really our next push is to get back on that bandwagon to build direct connectors. We feel there will be plenty of traffic momentum for that soon.”