Fort Bend County considers mobility bond

Updated 1:50 p.m. July 25

At a special workshop meeting this morning, Fort Bend County commissioners narrowed down their project list to meet a $185 million total mandated by Judge Robert Hebert. The commissioners will vote to call a bond election at its Aug. 13 meeting.

If voters approve the bond election, it will have no impact on the current tax rate, Hebert said.

Posted 9:30 a.m. July 25

Fort Bend County commissioners are discussing calling another bond election in November as money from the 2007 mobility bond is nearly depleted. The minimum bond amount would be $150 million—the same as the 2007 bond—and would pay for new roads as well as expansions and extensions of existing thoroughfares.

County Judge Robert Hebert said he plans for the court to make a decision by the end of July and will call for an election in August. He wants to give ample time for commissioners to educate their constituents on what the bond would pay for and whether it would affect property taxes.

"We are about to sell our last $35 million from the 2007 bond, and we have to have money to plan for the roads that we need," Hebert said.

If voters approve the bond, construction on the decided projects could begin in late 2014–early 2015, he said. The goal is to keep the bond at $150 million, but with funds from county assistance districts—entities that collect sales tax revenue—the number could be raised to a little more than $200 million with no impact on taxpayers, he said. However, the exact type of bond and what implications it may have on tax rates will not be determined until August.

County commissioners spent much of July narrowing down their wish list of road projects to reach the $150-million mark. Considering the four precincts combined could present projects totaling more than $900 million, eliminating items is a challenge, Hebert said. He has mandated for a final list to be determined by the beginning of August.

"[Projects are] picked based on traffic counts, state of surrounding roads [and] the need to make a connection between major points in a community. It is a pretty complicated process," ebert said. "But there is no effort to balance between each precinct."

The county is not obligated to award an equal amount of bond funds to each precinct, he said. Rather it organizes a master list of county-wide projects by necessity.

Precinct 3 needs

Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers said the fast-paced development of residential and commercial projects in his area have placed a heavy demand for not just improved roads, but more options for drivers. He has identified 32 projects, but he also said realistically only 12 may receive the requested funding.

"I am trying to demonstrate [to the court] that Precinct 3—the portion [north of] FM 1093—is in a state of rapid development, and that the need is greater and there is a growth component incomparable to the rest of the county," he said.

Meyers said one major need in the precinct is creating connectors to major thoroughfares, which would include making improvements to FM 1463. It would involve a partnership with the city of Katy, but Meyers said adding frontage roads and another connector to I-10 just west of FM 1463 would improve mobility.

"Fort Bend County has no connectors to I-10," Meyers said. "We also need more roads to extend to FM 1463."

While discussions on the pending bond election continue, Meyers said in the meantime he is making small adjustments to help traffic. For example, he is in the process of eliminating right-turn lanes from specific intersections such as Cinco Ranch Boulevard and Westheimer Parkway and looking at changing signals to include a blinking yellow arrow for left turns, a recent traffic installment several counties in the area already have in place.

Four out of Meyers' top five projects on his wish list are in the Katy area, specifically near Fulshear and Cinco Ranch Northwest.

Fulshear Parkway

A group of landowners and developers are making its case to the county for Fulshear Parkway to be included in the bond package. The project would include constructing a six-mile boulevard through currently undeveloped land with features such as roundabouts, extensive landscaping and parallel walking trails. Kerry Gilbert, owner of land-planning firm Gilbert and Associates, has been developing the project since 2008. The road would run north to south, connecting FM 1093 and I-10, in a projected pathway that is surrounded by undeveloped land. Much of the land, however, is slated to accommodate for more housing projects, including west Cross Creek Ranch.

"The tracts of land don't have good access, or most have no access, to roads except small easements because it was all ranch or farmland before purchased," Gilbert said. "We could plan a roadway that would benefit all landowners and get them together. We could propose a thoroughfare."

Landowners have pledged to contribute $21 million for studies, design and a portion of construction, Gilbert said, in hopes that Fort Bend County can foot another $21 million to pay for the $42-million bill.

A preliminary, proposed layout of the road distinguishes it from most roads in the Houston area, Gilbert said, notably because of its use of roundabouts that aim to reduce accidents and maintain a steady traffic flow. The absence of traffic lights also helps reduce pollution produced by idle vehicles, he said.

For now, the coalition of landowners are working on a feasibility study. The group also secured the creation of a road utility district. Texas House Rep. John Zerwas, R–Katy, sponsored the bill in the legislative session to create the RUD, and he said it functions similar to a municipal utility district as a governmental body and collects taxes to repay the landowners for their initial investment.

"We do this all the time for different [projects], and this is perhaps more interesting than most because it connects Westpark Tollway to I-10, and that's a very important thoroughfare as we continue to see development in the area," Zerwas said.

Gilbert said the road will play a key role in west Katy's mobility and hopes for the feasibility study to be complete by spring 2014.

"It will be a really amazing road, because there really is not a road in Houston or Texas like this," he said.