Funding plans for Montgomery County roads unclear as state, county see less funding

Montgomery County Precinct 2 is eyeing widening lanes on Nichols Sawmill Road from Butera Road to FM 1774 with its leftover $10 million from the county’s bond, Commissioner Charlie Riley said. (Anna Lotz/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County Precinct 2 is eyeing widening lanes on Nichols Sawmill Road from Butera Road to FM 1774 with its leftover $10 million from the county’s bond, Commissioner Charlie Riley said. (Anna Lotz/Community Impact Newspaper)

Montgomery County Precinct 2 is eyeing widening lanes on Nichols Sawmill Road from Butera Road to FM 1774 with its leftover $10 million from the county’s bond, Commissioner Charlie Riley said. (Anna Lotz/Community Impact Newspaper)

The last of Montgomery County’s projects funded by the 2015 road bond are wrapping up in Precinct 2, and talks of a new bond have been tabled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley said.

Paired with the state facing an estimated $4.58 billion budget shortfall in fiscal year 2021, officials said transportation projects could see funding challenges in the next few years as Texas’ economy grapples with the effects of the pandemic.

“We can expect to see those impacts in the next two to three years. How significant they will be, I don’t think anyone quite has a handle on that yet, but there will be a dent because of the revenue forces that fund those projects,” said Allie Isbell, the transportation manager for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a metropolitan planning organization working with Precinct 2 on a mobility study.

In addition to the last of the improvements funded by its $280 million road bond approved in 2015, new mobility and thoroughfare plans are also taking shape in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough previously said in February that discussion of a new bond could take place in late 2020 or early 2021 after the county’s thoroughfare plan is updated.


Keough said the county would need a combination of state and federal dollars with local matching to address its growth-related mobility needs. Keough’s office declined to comment for this article.

“We were just doing so well,” Riley said. “We all kind of had in the back of our mind that once we get these road projects [from the 2015 bond] done ... we were possibly going to ask to go out for another bond. ... This is just not the time to even be thinking about going out for another road bond.”

Precinct 2 planning


Nearly five years after the passage of the county’s 2015 road bond, many of its dozens of planned projects are built or moving toward completion. Precincts 2 and 4 are also developing their own mobility plans to chart the area’s needs, and a countywide thoroughfare plan update is expected in summer 2021, a representative from Brown and Gay Engineering said at the Oct. 13 Commissioners Court meeting.

Riley said the Precinct 2 mobility plan, being done in partnership with H-GAC and engineers, is a first for the precinct. He said he estimates the study, which will look five to 15 years out, will take about two years.

“They will look at state roads, county roads. We’ve even got them looking into some of the city roads ... to see what could be projected in the future that we may be needing to make plans [for] instead of waiting until ... we’re so far behind the eight ball that we can’t catch up,” Riley said. “Just think: We’ve never had [Hwy.] 249 looked at other than, ‘We’re going to build this road through here.’”

Montgomery County’s piece of the Hwy. 249 toll road extension opened this spring.

In Precinct 2—which •Community Impact Newspaper• previously reported was allocated $64 million through the 2015 bond—several road projects funded by the bond are now complete, including Grand Pines Road, which opened in May, connecting Nichols Sawmill and Sanders Cemetery roads.

With the cost savings from completing projects under budget, Precinct 2 has about $10 million remaining from the bond allocation for projects not included on the initial list, although an exact amount was not yet available, Riley said. Among the additional projects, Riley said he is eyeing widening the lanes on Nichols Sawmill Road from Butera Road to FM 1774. Although Precinct 2 is waiting on cost estimates and construction proposals, the project would include two 12-foot lanes, an 11-foot center lane and 8-foot shoulders as well as widening the bridge over Walnut Creek. Currently, crews are widening Nichols Sawmill Road from Grand Pines to Butera.

“We could complete the projects on the bond list plus add this project to it; we will be doing pretty well over in Precinct 2,” he said.

Precinct 2 also allocated bond funds for initial work on the Magnolia Bypass—a proposed loop around the north side of Magnolia from the Hwy. 249 extension to west of FM 1774. Riley said the county is moving forward with surveying and purchasing the right of way.

While the bulk of the project is unfunded, construction of the route is included in H-GAC’s 2045 Regional Transportation Plan, a long-range plan prioritizing regional projects to receive funding, and a construction timeline is therefore unknown.

“We don’t have the money to build it right now, but we do have the money to go ahead and ... purchase the right of way,” Riley said.

A countywide scope


While local officials continue planning for the roadway networks, agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation and H-GAC are examining possible paths forward for some of the county’s most traveled roads as the population rises.

H-GAC Transportation Planner Carlene Mullins said improvements to the county’s east-west and north-south mobility by the mid-2020s are keys to addressing its ongoing growth and mobility needs.

“That’s one of the things that I believe the county needs to work on: expanding their existing roadway network so that they have alternatives to the existing major roads,” she said. “There needs to be some alternative routes developed in the county, not only for safety point of view, but also to accommodate the features of the county. ... You need to create a network to work together to be able to accommodate future growth in the region.”

Projects around Magnolia were selected by H-GAC through its 2021-24 Transportation Improvement Program—a regional plan prioritizing road projects to receive local, state and federal funding. A $29.7 million project widening FM 1488 from the city of Magnolia to Waller County is slated to commence in December, according to TxDOT information. The plan also includes a $62 million project to widen FM 1488 from FM 1774 to FM 149 in Magnolia.

TxDOT spokesperson Emily Black said the agency has had a recent focus on east-west corridors. TxDOT’s access management study of FM 1488 from FM 149 to I-45 concluded this spring, resulting in the recommendation of more than $19 million in enhancements within the next five years.

“Anything ... east and west that we can improve, I think that’s what’s on everybody’s radar,” Riley said. “All of those roads are at capacity, or near capacity or overcapacity, and those are the ones that we’re going to have to look at to try to expand before we try to put something new on the ground.”

Funding forecast


While state funds will be involved in construction along FM 1488 and other planned projects, uncertainty surrounding the pandemic’s effects on the next several years of state finances and budgeting could affect the status of necessary improvements.

According to information from the office of Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, most categories of state tax collections decreased this spring and summer—including the motor fuel, severance, and sales and use taxes that feed into the State Highway Fund.

In total, the State Highway Fund—which accounts for the majority of TxDOT’s funding—is projected to see its state share of revenue fall 20.44% and its federal income reduced more than 12% from 2020-21, resulting in an overall 17.13% drop in fund revenue.

Those decreases are likely to play into TxDOT’s plans for future infrastructure work throughout the state. The agency said it is considering the long-range effects of the pandemic.

“At this time, TxDOT is closely monitoring revenue information shared by our state comptroller, anticipating various budget scenarios of the 87th [2021] Texas Legislature, and working closely with the Texas Congressional delegation on possible federal funding impacts. With any revenue impact, TxDOT will fully assess future plans and adjust accordingly,” said Veronica Beyer, the department’s director of media relations, in an email.

Andrea French, the executive director of the infrastructure funding coalition Transportation Advocacy Group-Houston, said in addition to evaluating the revenue lost due to COVID-19, TAG and other experts are considering ways to boost funding—such as fees for alternatively fueled vehicles or an inflation-adjusted gas tax—to support future projects as state and federal recovery moves forward.

“We understand there are other priorities this [legislative] session, but our argument is one of the things we need to work on is jobs and bolstering our economy, and a great way to do that is to invest in transportation,” French said.

Andrew Christman contributed to this report.
By Ben Thompson
Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2019 as a reporter for The Woodlands area and began working as Austin's City Hall reporter in April 2021.
By Anna Lotz

Editor, Tomball | Magnolia & Conroe | Montgomery

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 for the Tomball|Magnolia edition. She began covering the communities of Conroe and Montgomery as well in 2020. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these 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.



MOST RECENT

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said power outages are not expected April 13, while requesting energy conservation. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATE: ERCOT call for energy conservation ends April 13 without need for power outages

An ERCOT official said "tight" supply and demand conditions arose on the state's electric grid April 13 due to forecasting issues amid planned, seasonal maintenance outages by some power generators.

Spearheaded by state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, the new court, if established, would expand the capacity of the county's criminal court system in hopes of reducing its backlog, which stood at 70,951 total cases pending before criminal district courts in Harris County as of April 8. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County supports creation of new criminal district court to tackle case backlog

If the efforts are successful, this would be Harris County's first new criminal district court since 1984 when the 351st District Court was created.

Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District No. 5 covers 22 communities and roughly 2,800 acres around the border of Cy-Fair and Tomball. (Courtesy Northwest Harris County MUD No. 5)
Northwest Harris County MUD pitches bond referendums to keep up with growth, bolster trail system

Northwest Harris County MUD No. 5—which caters to 22 subdivisions around the border of Cy-Fair and Tomball—is seeking voter approval on bond referendums that officials said will help maintain aging utility infrastructure, launch a water reclamation project and bring new trails to the community.

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough speaks during a budget presentation April 13. (Screenshot via Montgomery County livestream)
Montgomery County commissioners begin FY 2021-22 budget talks

Budget talks have begun at the county level, with a workshop scheduled for late July.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended health providers pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 13. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
State, federal health authorities recommend pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after 6 rare, severe blood clots

Hub providers in Dallas, Harris and Travis counties have all announced they will follow the recommendations and pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Hackberry Plaza to bring 15,000 square feet of space along FM 1488 this summer

The plaza includes two 7,500-square-foot buildings with approximately six tenants slated for each.

Armored Sports camps feature basketball, flag football and more. (Courtesy Pexels)
Armored Sports camps to launch in venues across Greater Houston

A new Christian sports camp for youth is launching this summer in churches across the Greater Houston area.

Montgomery County's active COVID-19 case count was 1,692 as of April 9. (Community Impact staff)
Montgomery County active COVID-19 case count drops below 1,700 as of April 9

The active COVID-19 case count in Montgomery County is the lowest it has been since October.

"Breaking Strongholds" is a faith-based, eight-episode series that explores topics such as suicide and depression. (Courtesy Terry Weaver)
Series shot in Montgomery County aiming for Hulu, Netflix deal and more Houston-area news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Construction on Creekside Court, a KB Home community, is underway in Magnolia on Carraway Lane near FM 2978. (Courtesy KB Home)
97-homesite Creekside Court under construction at Carraway Lane, FM 2978

Construction on Creekside Court, a KB Home community, is underway in Magnolia on Carraway Lane near FM 2978.

Mental health services have seen an increased demand through 2020 and early 2021. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Tri-County Behavioral Healthcare director speaks on increased demands from pandemic

Evan Roberson spoke on the demand for mental health services as well as what his organization has seen over the past year.

The temporary waiver covering initial vehicle registration, vehicle registration renewal, vehicle titling, renewal of permanent disabled parking placards and 30-day temporary permits will end April 14. (Hannah Zedaker/Community Impact Newspaper)
DMV officials say no grace period following waiver of car title, registration; new housing set for Magnolia, Cypress

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Houston area.