Woodlands Parkway one-mile lane expansion nears start after yearlong delay

The one-mile stretch of Woodlands Parkway between Grogan's Mill Road and East Panther Creek Drive faces serious traffic congestion and has been designated for expansion by the Woodlands Road Utility District No. 1. The project was scheduled to go to bid in fall 2011 but was delayed because of changes in the environmental assessment review process.

Plans to expand the roadway from four lanes to six lanes began in early 2009. The original environmental assessment had set project limits from I-45 to East Panther Creek, but after the portion of Woodlands Parkway from I-45 to Grogan's Mill Road was widened, a new study needed to be completed, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

"When you change the project limits, technically you have to redo the environmental [assessment] because the project scope has changed. Everyone has their own list, and that list grows every month," said Robert Heinemen, vice president of planning for The Woodlands Development Company.

The original assessment, completed in 2010, also gave rise to concerns of inaccurate reports and the use of improper technology, said Mike Page, spokesman for the WRUD. Initially, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had a one-year turn-around to review and respond to the assessment for the proposed expansion, Heinemen said. A separate firm reviewed and confirmed the findings, which has since been approved by TxDOT.

According to TxDOT, the project is expected to go to bid this month. Construction will likely begin in October and is projected to be completed over the next year, said Raquelle Lewis, public information officer for TxDOT. The bid includes the project's total cost and the estimated date of completion.

Construction costs for the Woodlands Parkway expansion is split between federal and local funding at 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Act (CMAQ), a program under the U.S. Department of Transportation committed to improving congested roadways, is funding 80 percent of the estimated $3.1 million in construction costs, about $2.5 million, Page said. The WRUD is providing the remaining 20 percent, or about $620,000, and an additional 11 percent for engineering costs and the new environmental study, which totals approximately $1.1 million, Page said.

Currently, Woodlands Parkway runs over the southern spillway of Lake Woodlands, causing a portion of the project to be constructed over a small creek south of the lake. The bridge has been reported in good condition, and two lanes in each direction will be kept open during the bridge widening, Lewis said.



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