Community Development Director Nathan Dietrich presented an update to Tomball City Council on Feb. 21 regarding a long-awaited project to reconstruct FM 2920 through downtown, also known as Main Street. The project would span from Willow Street to Business 249.

Kyle Bertrand, a civil engineer for Gunda Corp. working on the project, said a full reconstruction could start in approximately 2 1/2 years and take 24-36 months to complete once construction begins.

In the four-block span between Oak and Elm streets, raised medians are planned to replace the middle turn lane, Bertrand said. This four-block section is the only one that would have a raised median, he said.

Council Member Derek Townsend Sr. said he is concerned about what raised medians in that area would do to area businesses and future parades through downtown, such as how some of the larger vehicles and floats in the parade would fit with a raised median. He said he believes it would be difficult to access businesses with the raised median dividing the road as well.

"I'm not a fan of raised medians, period, because it's killed [FM] 1960. ... There's businesses and buildings that have been shuttered," Townsend said. "I don't want that to happen to our downtown."

Council Member John Ford asked why the median had to be raised. Mayor Gretchen Fagan said a raised median would keep people from crossing anywhere but at the traffic signals, and the presence of a raised median gives pedestrians some place to stand more safely while crossing.

FM 2920 improvements have been in the works through downtown Tomball since a Livable Centers Study was conducted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council in 2009, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.

Kelly Violette, executive director of the Tomball Economic Development Corp., worked as Tomball’s city planner at the time the Livable Centers Study was conducted, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. Violette said Feb. 21 raised medians were recommended as part of the study.

"That was a traffic control suggestion, bringing that raised median and widening the sidewalks, trying to reduce the speed of traffic in that little downtown area. ... In 2009, we had four times the number of crashes just within that four-block area than we did in the state," Violette said.

City Manager David Esquivel suggested looking into removable raised medians.

Violette said she believes the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce would figure out how to make the parades still happen safely.

"We need to be looking at everything that is going to affect our town. ... We need to think about the effects of our community," Townsend said.

During the Feb. 21 meeting, Dietrich also showed possible options for aesthetic enhancements along Main Street, including pavers, elevated options for traffic lights, pedestrian lighting, benches, trash cans and trees.

Ethan Beeson, a landscape architect with the Texas Department of Transportation, said several trees are causing tree heaving, which is when the roots disrupt the sidewalks and cause them to crack or push up. He said the city of Tomball could continue to repair or replace sidewalks, but with a full reconstruction that involves going underground and replacing utilities along Main Street, it gets expensive and lengthens the construction process. He said if the city committed to removing some or all of the trees, TxDOT would commit to a subsequent landscaping project.

"TxDOT would commit to funding tree landscaping 100%," Beeson said.

He said TxDOT would only pay for tree landscaping that needed to happen after the FM 2920 reconstruction and that TxDOT would hold a one-year warranty in which TxDOT would pay to maintain the trees. After one year, the city of Tomball would be responsible for maintaining the trees.

Dietrich said there are many decisions the city has to make moving forward with this project, such as choosing whether to reconstruction or rehabilitate the roadway; what the utilities, water, and sewer master plan would be; and choosing standard or elevated aesthetics along the corridor.