Commissioners unanimously approved the bond election at a Feb. 23 meeting following a proposal by the Montgomery County Road Bond Committee, which has held both public and private meetings since the fall to determine the amount of the bond and potential projects to be included.
"Growth such as we have experienced in Montgomery County created great need for road improvements in all areas," committee co-chairwoman Nelda Blair said. "We wanted to be sure we addressed the most pressing needs while keeping a close eye on the dollars spent."
The proposed bond would not result in a property tax increase for Montgomery County residents. The debt the county would accrue would be paid by revenues earned through growth in the county's tax base, Blair said.
A portion of the $350 million would be allocated to each precinct based on need, as determined by the bond committee, rather than an even distribution.
The county's last road bond proposal, in 2011 for $200 million, failed when 53 percent of voters opposed the plan. Under that proposal, each precinct was to receive $50 million for road improvements.
If this year's bond is successful, Precinct 3, which is composed primarily of The Woodlands, Shenandoah, Oak Ridge North and the Rayford Road corridor, would get the bulk of the funding: $105 million. Precinct 4 would receive $85 million and Precincts 1 and 2 would receive $80 million each.
A point of contention among commissioners, as well as Woodlands-area leaders, is the inclusion of the six-mile extension of Woodlands Parkway from FM 2978 to Hwy. 249, a $22 million project.
The Woodlands Parkway extension is included in the list of projects for Precinct 2 and was a recommendation of the bond committee, Blair said.
However, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, Woodlands Township Director Gordy Bunch, who also served on the Road Bond Committee, and Chairman Bruce Tough said opposition to the extension is high among Woodlands residents, so much so that it could result in the bond being turned down by voters.
"Every day I get more and more concerned [voters may turn down the bond]," Noack said. "I am seeing 90 percent opposition on this project. [Woodlands residents] seem to be overwhelmingly opposed to it. Most projects move toward improving mobility. It's unfortunate this project does the opposite and creates more problems."
Noack commissioned a study performed by Brown & Gay Engineers and conducted over
24 hours in February that analyzed traffic patterns at Woodlands Parkway and FM 2978. According to the study, traffic along Woodlands Parkway east of FM 2978 would increase by more than 7,000 vehicles per day by 2018 if Woodlands Parkway is extended, and by more than 12,000 vehicles per day by 2025.
The Road Bond Committee suggested an alternate package for $365 million that included widening Woodlands Parkway from Kuykendahl Road to FM 2978, a proposal that was turned down by the court.
"[The] Woodlands Parkway [extension] is not a surprise to anyone," Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley said. "So we should have been planning—or somebody should have been planning—for east of FM 2978 while I was talking about what I would do west of FM 2978. So I don't think we are going to entertain the $15 million for that expansion."
Riley said the extension of Woodlands Parkway has long been on the county's and The Woodlands' thoroughfare plans, and some of the funds allocated to other projects in Precinct 3 could be spent on the Woodlands Parkway widening.
Riley said that "under no circumstances" would he consider removing the Woodlands Parkway extension from the list of proposed projects.
"This road would help the west side of Montgomery County," he said. "I see people on the west side getting to FM 2978, to FM 1488, to Grand Parkway."
Texas Patriots, a political action committee based in The Woodlands, is opposed to the bond proposal.
"We cannot support this bond, and the main reason is there is a poison pill, and that is The Woodlands Parkway extension," Texas Patriots President Julie Turner said. "[The extension] will increase traffic in The Woodlands, and it does not alleviate anything—it makes traffic worse."
Turner said the Texas Patriots could potentially support the bond if a formal list of projects was compiled that did not include the Woodlands Parkway extension.
Blair said the Road Bond Committee would advocate for the bond package as written.
"While there appears to be some opposition to one out of 75 priority projects, our county citizens desperately need this road bond election to pass in order to build, expand, repair and maintain the dozens of other priority projects on this list," she said.
The Texas Conservative Tea Party Coalition—which is based in Montgomery County—voted March 5 to support the bond.
Meanwhile, an online petition initiated by Bunch asking to stop the Woodlands Parkway extension had garnered about 3,000 signatures as of press time.
Bunch served on the Road Bond Committee, but resigned following the approval of the bond by county commissioners.
Representatives of the Rayford Road Civic Association support the bond, but say the money allocated is not enough to alleviate increased traffic along the Rayford Road corridor. Of the $350 million in proposed projects, $68 million is allocated for east of I-45.
"Although many voters are encouraged to see Rayford Road [improvements] and Robinson Road [improvements] included in the list of funded projects, many have not fully embraced the idea as they feel it is simply not enough to improve and eliminate issues affecting their communities," the RRCA stated in a release.
The main project on the Precinct 3 list of proposals is a $60 million project that includes widening Rayford Road from four lanes to six lanes from the Union Pacific railroad tracks to Riley
Fuzzel Road as well as an overpass at the railroad.
"When you look at the east side of I-45, the lack of overall planning has perpetuated a [traffic] issue over decades now," Noack said. "The price tag [for the Rayford Road expansion and overpass] is only going to get more expensive the longer we wait to address it. But when I look across the entire county, I don't see a need more pressing than this one."
Another major project on the Precinct 3 list is extending The Woodlands Parkway direct connector that currently ends at Woodloch Forest Drive west past Six Pines Drive.
"That extension would continue all the way down to Six Pines Drive, and the first signal you would hit is on the other side of [Lake Woodlands] at East Panther Creek [Drive]," Noack said.
Other projects under the bond proposal include $8 million to realign and widen Robinson Road in Oak Ridge North and $3.8 million as part of local funding efforts to widen Gosling Road over Spring Creek, a
project that would also be funded by Harris County Precinct 4 as well as state and federal money.
"We were able to secure $105 million, which is a huge step in the right direction," Noack said. "But it certainly does not fully address the need that we have in this community."