Bill Rowden

Cy-Fair Chamber transportation committee co-chair

Planes, trains, automobiles—and waterways?

These are the things Cy-Fair residents and business owners should be thinking about when it comes to improving transportation in the area, said Bill Rowden, co-chair of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce Transportation Committee.

Rowden knows of what he speaks. Originally from Arkansas, he attended Oklahoma State University and majored in business. Not only does he live in the area, but he also ran a corporate-apartment locating office for several years during a temporary hiatus from his oil and gas consulting business after the industry tanked in the late '80s.

Rowden said he wanted to learn about local transportation issues so that he would not put his apartment locator customers in harm's way. That was more than 20 years ago in 1991, and he has been an avid supporter of the chamber ever since.

As co-chair of the transportation committee, Rowden is up-to-date on current and future transportation issues—ranging from tollways to commuter rail—but most notably improvement and expansion plans for Hwy. 290. The first meetings about the major study necessary to do any kind of roadwork on the freeway began in 1995. Since then, the community has been as patient as it can be about getting work done on the major thoroughfare, Rowden said.

The Cy-Fair Houston Chamber transportation committee meets on the first Thursday of the month to discuss various road projects in the area. Outside of that, its members mostly work to support endeavors underway in the area, whether it be through meeting with area legislators, attending other meetings or hosting the annual transportation conference.

What is the transportation committee's highest priority?

Any modification we can get to Hwy. 290. When there's an accident in the HOV lane, or the HOT lane on I-45, it can completely block everything beyond the toll way. Putting three lanes on 290 helps, because it provides an alternative to total gridlock.

How will the new memorandum of understanding with TxDOT for Hwy. 290 affect Cy-Fair?

It tells those who are living here or trying to put businesses here that someone is actually paying attention to the need for workers to be able to get to and from their jobs. That's a major concern for anyone who has thought about moving any major facility to the 290 corridor. They've always said 'Wow, we need a way to get our people to and from work since there's no mass transit out there.'

Besides Hwy. 290, what other roadway in Cy-Fair needs the most work?

Hwy. 249 is not necessarily in the Cy-Fair area, but if the extension does in fact go through—which, by the way, is one that's been on the books just about as long as Hwy. 290—it would take a big load off 290. And Segment E of the Grand Parkway from Katy to 290 should also help with congestion.

Why should Cy-Fair residents be concerned about waterways?

The bayous we use as drainage systems for the greater Houston metro area aren't something we can use for transportation, but we have to be aware that we have a major port [in Houston] and everything that comes into that port has to go out—by rail, truck or whatever. Every container that comes into the Port of Houston right now requires four truck trips to get out. But the vessels coming out soon are going to be four-times that capacity. That's 16 truck trips for just one container. We have to be able to accommodate that so they can join up with us without having to go through the metropolitan area.

What kind of improved transportation would you like to see 20 years from now around Cy-Fair?

I'm an advocate of mass transit. I've been on the 290 Passenger Rail Coalition since we first organized it. We've spoken to people all along the corridor and were very surprised to find that a number of people are interested in the idea of mass transit along that vine.

Is there any particular model of a city that already has mass transit that you think could work for our area?

In California, the route from San Diego north into Los Angeles has been successful, and I've personally ridden the rail in Atlanta. It actually starts at the terminal in the airport. I was whizzing past all the folks stuck in gridlock on the freeway.

Even with plans and projects in place, will additional transportation facilities be enough to keep up with population growth in the area?

It's not easy to pour concrete fast enough to keep up with [projected] 2-million- people growth in the next 20 years. That doesn't mean you can't do it—it means you need a combination of trains, planes, automobiles and waterways.

What is your favorite part of leading the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce transportation committee?

The knowledge base. Understanding and learning about what needs to be done when and where. It's a long and arduous task, but at the other end, if you keep the impetus going, is the reward.