The long-discussed widening of FM 1488 eastward through the heart of Magnolia is nearing its start, and while the project is expected to improve mobility, it has been met with concerns from businesses owners losing their parking and signage.

The expansion will widen FM 1488 from two to four lanes between FM 1774 and FM 149. It is out for construction bids, and once contracts have been awarded, construction will start within 90 days, Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson Emily Black said in an email.

Meanwhile, on the west side of the city, a project to widen FM 1488 westward from FM 1774 to the Waller County line began in November 2020, per TxDOT information.

“[FM] 1488 is finally getting some of the attention that I think it really deserves and I think is really needed,” Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley said.

The widening projects could give the city more exposure in attracting potential businesses and tourists, Magnolia Economic Development Director Rachel Steele said. Steele said there are efforts by the city to revitalize the downtown Magnolia area, including adding parking and improving business facades, starting in 2022.

“There are a lot of amenities in Magnolia that I think people are going to start to realize because they’ll have some extra time [not sitting in traffic],” Steele said.

However, some business owners on the north side of FM 1488 east of FM 1774, where the new lanes will be added, said they are worried about the construction’s effect on their businesses.

“I know we need more [lanes] because Magnolia is growing, and it’s good for business, but the construction is going to affect our business very, very bad[ly],” said Rene Benitez, owner of Las Fuentes, a Mexican restaurant on FM 1488, which has been in business in Magnolia for 21 years.

Increased congestion

The FM 1488 expansion from FM 1774 to FM 149 will widen the road from two lanes to a four-lane highway with a continuous turn lane going eastward through the city of Magnolia, Black said. Construction on the $48 million, TxDOT-funded project is anticipated to last 2.5 years, Black said.

The FM 1488 corridor in Magnolia continues to see commercial and residential growth. For example, the master-planned community Audubon at FM 1488 and Hwy. 249 is expected to bring 4,200 homes, and an H-E-B-anchored development broke ground in August at FM 1488 and Spur 149.

Sam Yager, executive vice president of Sam Yager Inc., developer of Audubon, said he has been working with TxDOT to design the project, including eliminating metal guard rails and adding wider pedestrian and bicycle crossings across FM 1488.

“One of the primary goals that Audubon had with respect to the proposed road project was to make the roadway corridor more attractive, safer and avoid future construction projects that might slow traffic in the future,” Yager said in an email.

Riley said he believes the widening is necessary because of increased congestion along FM 1488 as a result of the booming development.

From 2016-19, the daily average number of cars driving on FM 1488 steadily increased, according to TxDOT data. The intersection of FM 1488 and FM 149 saw 3,125 more cars in 2019 than 2016, a 21.2% increase, data shows.

“If you look at the growth with the extension of [Hwy.] 249 especially at 1488 that’s coming there, then by all means 1488 should be extended and expanded to four lanes through Magnolia,” Riley said.

Segment 1B of the Hwy. 249 extension was completed in March, extending the tollway from FM 1774 in Pinehurst to FM 1774 in Plantersville.

In Magnolia, the FM 1488 widening will be led by TxDOT with the city’s only responsibility being the relocation of utilities along the highway, City Administrator Don Doering said. The utility relocations will cost about $1 million, Doering said.

“We welcome the widening project,” Doering said. “It should help the traffic problems we’ve been suffering due to increased use.”

Construction woes

While the project is set to improve mobility, Riley said he believes driving along FM 1488 in the interim will be a “nightmare.” The road is the main corridor between Hwy. 290 and I-45, meaning drivers have to go through Magnolia on FM 1488 to get from Waller County to I-45, Riley said.

Some business owners are also concerned about how the construction will affect their business. Benitez said Las Fuentes had to give up 26 of its parking spaces so TxDOT can widen the road.

Benitez said he built a new parking lot with 50 parking spaces to prepare for the construction, costing him $300,000, some of which he said was funded by TxDOT. However, he said he is worried other businesses in the area will take advantage of the new lot he built since they will be losing parking, too.

Corey Yackley, owner of Texan Mattress on FM 1488, said his business will lose half of its parking as well as its signage on the road. He said he uses a trailer with a sign on it to advertise his business, and he plans to use it more frequently during construction to make up for the lost signage.

Magnolia Mayor Todd Kana said the city may see sales tax revenue dip during construction.

“People tend to avoid the construction if they can drive an extra five or 10 minutes a different direction to get what they need, so there is a trickle-down effect on our businesses and in turn the city sales tax, but it’s typically temporary and not damaging,” Kana said.

More to come

With the widening through Magnolia now in motion, Riley said he can focus on other projects along the corridor.

These projects include the widening of FM 1488 to six lanes from FM 2978 to I-45, which has funding available but is not anticipated to start until 2029, and the Magnolia Relief Route, a proposed roadway that would loop north around the city from Hwy. 249 to west of Old Hempstead Road at FM 1488. ••The relief route was not recommended for funding by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a metropolitan planning organization, during its last funding round in March 2019. However, Riley said he plans to submit the project again in spring 2022 both as a four-lane highway totaling $78 million and as a $43 million two-lane road.

Jake Kelly, a member of the Magnolia 4A Economic Development Corp., said he believes the FM 1488 widening will bring more visitors and make the city more attractive for potential businesses.

In anticipation, Kelly said the EDC is focused on revitalizing its downtown in 2022, which includes the area between Commerce, Melton, 10th and Sanders streets.

“We want to improve the facades and the aesthetics of [downtown Magnolia]—which attracts not only businesses, but downtown residents, as well—and try to give it a facelift,” Kelly said.

Steele said the city is looking to add parking and pedestrian connections downtown. She said the city also plans to restart a business facade improvement program to provide grants for businesses to cover some of the costs associated with the construction, such as the loss of parking and signage.

Steele said plans are still being developed, and there is no estimated costs for the programs.

“When everything is full and the businesses are working together and you got people on the streets and the sidewalks, that’s when you’re poised for enormous growth and success,” she said.