Short-term plans focus on Town Center, Rayford Road

For more than a year, all of the organizations and government entities that oversee transportation and mobility projects in south Montgomery County met each month to devise a plan to fix the traffic issues the area is experiencing. The results of that study were revealed to the public in September.

Representatives from The Woodlands Township, the cities of Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah, Montgomery County Precinct 3, The Woodlands Road Utility District No. 1, Harris County Precinct 4, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Houston-Galveston Area Council have created a list of

$1.6 billion worth of proposed transportation improvements throughout south Montgomery County designed to improve mobility.

The study was led by H-GAC's Metropolitan Planning Organization and focused on an area from FM 2978 on the west side to the San Jacinto River to the east, from a northern boundary of FM 1488 south to the Grand Parkway. The study's boundaries lie within the cities of Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah, The Woodlands Township, Montgomery County Precinct 3, and parts of Montgomery County Precinct 2 and Harris County Precinct 4.

"One of the things we could do a better job of is planning," said James Noack, Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner. "This was the first time we brought in TxDOT, Harris County, The Woodlands, Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah. It was the first time anybody sat down in the same room with the goal of putting in a short-term and long-term plan together."

The study was divided into two components: short-term needs and long-term needs. The cost of the short-term projects, which includes design studies, is $364 million, while long-term projects are estimated at $1.23 billion.

"The goal of the short-term projects was to identify where [funding entities] can make improvements in relatively a short amount of time, not years down the road—things that could be done in the next two to three years," said Carlene Mullins, H-GAC transportation planner.

Mullins said the primary areas of focus for short-term mobility improvements were areas along Rayford Road east of I-45, and throughout The Woodlands Town Center.

"Rayford Road was [an area of focus] because of the congestion and safety issues," she said. "It is one of the most congested roads in the area, and there is a safety issue there with the railroad tracks. Fire trucks can't get through, and there are a lot of accidents on that road because of that middle lane. And Grand Parkway is coming online, and there is going to be an even higher demand to get to Grand Parkway using that route."

Mullins and Chief Transportation Planner Thomas Gray said continual development in Town Center, especially with the workers and residents expected to occupy Hughes Landing, resulted in short-term projects targeted for that area.

Noack said many of the short-term projects are already being addressed and targeted for funding by the county or through funding partnerships with entities such as The Woodlands Road Utility District. Montgomery County will likely seek voter approval in May for a bond somewhere in the $400 million range, Noack said.

"A lot of the projects on the short-term plan are either underway, or will be under the bond election," he said. "The majority of the short-term needs will be addressed if this bond passes. This [bond] should have wide appeal to the south [Montgomery] County voter."

Noack said Precinct 3 could see about $150 million of the approximate $400 million of the total bond package.

Among the projects on the short-term needs plan that could be funded through bond money include widening the bridge from two lanes to four at Gosling Road over Spring Creek, an overpass on Rayford Road over the Union Pacific railroad, widening Rayford Road to six lanes and widening Lake Woodlands Drive from four lanes to six lanes from I-45 to Lake Front Circle.

Noack said any potential bond money should be distributed to the precincts with the most need, rather than equally among the four precincts.

"The days are gone of splitting bond money equally," he said. "Most of the needs are in south Montgomery County."