Hwy. 249 progresses

A year and a half ago, the idea of completing a toll road from Spring Cypress Road in Tomball to FM 1774 in Magnolia was considered a dream. Thanks largely to the petitioning of a group of citizens and elected officials in Harris, Montgomery and Grimes counties, the project is moving forward at an unprecedented rate.

"We've had tremendous progress on this project very quickly," said Craig Doyal, Montgomery County Precinct 2 commissioner. "It's encouraging to see what we can do when three counties commit to working together."

Construction on Segment 1 of the toll road—from Spring Cypress Road to FM 2920—is expected to begin in the fall of 2013. The design phase of the first portion in Harris County began last August. Segment 2—from FM 2920 to FM 1774 in Montgomery County—will follow. The project will be financed by revenue bonds, which will be paid off using revenues from tolls.

Toll road authorities in Harris and Montgomery counties agreed to a memorandum of understanding in January, which states Harris County will help with initial costs for Montgomery County's part of the project.

"It doesn't do us any good to build a road to a border that doesn't have something on the other side to match it," said Jack Cagle, Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner.

Montgomery County will pay back the money with interest after securing bond money. The total cost for both phases of the project will be about $335 million, according to the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

"The [memorandum of understanding] is virtually identical to the one that the Harris County Toll Road Authority did with Fort Bend County on the Westpark Tollway," Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. "Because 249 goes across the county lines, we need an MOU with Montgomery County."

Viewed as precedent to the Hwy. 249 project, Harris County in 2002 loaned Fort Bend County $15 million to construct the Westpark Tollway, which runs through both counties. For the Hwy. 249 project, the loaned money will help Montgomery County pay for the design, surveying, permitting, land acquisition and administrative costs associated with the project, according to the MOU, and the loan will be repaid back with interest.

"The bottom line is that it's about mobility," Cagle said. "If you try to go to a meeting in Tomball or travel in that area, the congestion in the region is just overwhelming. At the end of the day, if you can improve mobility, you can improve prosperity and quality of life."

Russell Zapalac, chief planning and project officer with the Texas Department of Transportation, said plans are in the works to continue the road through to Hwy. 6 in Navasota. This part of the project would come years down the line, he said.

"Over the next three months, we will be looking into getting an environmental team working on the portion north of FM 1774," he said. "Once we get the planning and environmental clearances done, we can start talking about construction. We'd like to make this a reality in the next five to six years."

By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.