Katy area park and ride service expandsResidents in Cinco Ranch will have a new way to commute into the Galleria and Greenway Plaza starting in 2016. The Fort Bend County Transportation Department is developing a park and ride facility off of Mason Road adjacent to the Westpark Tollway. The Cinco Ranch park and ride lot is one of several projects in the pipeline to help ease commuter congestion, including potential new partnerships between the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, the Energy Corridor Management District and private developers.

Fort Bend County

The Cinco Ranch project marks the first Katy-area park and ride facility for the county's transportation department, which operates four park and ride lots in Sugar Land.

"We're planning for 278 spaces—that's actual cars parked—but we've found at our other sites anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of our ridership isn't parking. Someone drops them off and picks them up. We also have a lot of people riding bikes, about one percent of ridership," said Paulette Shelton, Fort Bend County Transportation Director.

The Cinco Ranch location will also offer bicycle racks to accommodate cyclists.

The project is estimated at $2.4 million, which includes construction and contingency fees, according to Shelton. The county was awarded a federal transportation grant in 2013 to help fund the project. The grant share of the project is up to $2.5 million, and Shelton said the county is prepared to leverage the value of the land to contribute an additional $626,000 to the project if needed.

"Our piece of property wasn't in any MUD, so we had to look at our choices. On our own, that would've meant building water wells, a septic system we do eventually want to build on a maintenance facility there [as part of a long-range mobility plan]," Shelton said.

To address cost concerns, the property was annexed into Cinco Municipal Utility District No. 8, or CMUD8, in order to tie into existing water and sewer lines.

"Our district boundaries stop about a hundred feet away from the park and ride [facility]," CMUD8 engineer Jack Carter said. "So they came to us and said 'We need water and sewage, can you help us?' We annexed them into our service area, and we're going to extend about 2,000 feet of water and sewer line to make that connection."

At this point, Carter said CMUD8 would not be funding any portion of the project. However, future developers that partner with the district may reimburse the county for a portion of the infrastructure costs if they benefit from the use of the water and sewer connections.

The project is still in its preliminary design stage and no timeline has been set for construction. However, construction might begin as soon as the final quarter of 2015 with completion planned in 2016, Shelton said.

METRO plans

Nearly 104,000 people commute out of the Katy region every weekday, according to the latest 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data. As development continues to grow west and southwest of the city, county transportation departments are looking for solutions to prevent gridlock.

On Feb. 11, the METRO board of directors approved a new system map and timetable to increase the frequency and accessibility of mass transit routes in the Greater Houston area. The new routes and timetables were developed after nearly four years of ridership analysis and meetings with community stakeholders as well as public meetings going back to 2013.

METRO's Katy Corridor park and ride routes, which operate along I-10 from the Addicks, Kingsland and Grand Parkway facilities, are largely unchanged other than increased midday service and additional connections with heavily used lines downtown, Uptown and in the Texas Medical Center.

Robert Trevino, METROs executive vice president for planning, engineering and construction, acknowledges park and rides as a whole were not affected very much by the system redesign. However, there have long been plans to either expand the Grand Parkway location or partner with a Katy-area business to create a new location.

"We know there's a demand [in Katy], we know there's ridership and we're doing everything we can to find the best partnership," Trevino said.

With no room left to expand at the Addicks and Kingsland facilities, METRO is looking west for new park and ride opportunities.

"We're looking at every site where we can share space with other public or private entities," Trevino said. "And at the same time we're looking for a place [to build a standalone park and ride such as Addicks]."

Partnership solutions

When planning and developing a new park and ride, Trevino said two of the biggest issues are securing right of way and having enough space for parking. Public-private partnerships are one way to integrate park and ride locations into increasingly densely populated areas such as Katy.

Clark Martinson, executive director of the Energy Corridor District, has integrated the Addicks park and ride location into the district's master plan to create a Livable Center. A two- to five-year plan will see more integration between Addicks and nearby trailheads that lead into Bear Creek and Addicks Reservoir. Trail maps and a bike station are already planned for the facility.

"[Park and ride facilities] are 30 years old. They were at the edge of the city when they were built, but even the Grand Parkway has become more 'inside' the city," Martinson said. "They're more integrated into the community than they were 30 years ago."

Martinson envisions park and ride facilities that are mixed-use spaces with the capacity for community festivals such as the district's April 4 EnergyFest. The event will bring music stages and food trucks into Addicks Park and Ride facility, turning it into a festival grounds.

A prime example of the integrated park and ride concept is Cypress Village Station, a development at the intersection of Hwy. 290 and Skinner Road in Cypress. The project brought METRO together with private developers New Quest Properties and Greystar Development to create a park and ride location that doubles as a retail and housing hub. Cypress Village Station contains a 10,000-square-foot retail and office space along with 273 luxury lofts and 1,500 METRO park and ride spaces to charter area residents downtown or to the Northwest Transit Center, where they can transfer to the Texas Medical Center or the Galleria.

With new housing developments cropping up in the Katy region, both Shelton and Trevino said Harris and Fort Bend counties will be looking at more partnerships and integrated solutions. Fort Bend County, in particular, will be updating its short- and long-range infrastructure plans in 2016.

"In the Fulshear and Katy areas, we're going to need to start looking at additional long-term infrastructure and service needs. The more build-out we're seeing will affect modes of services we provide over the next 10 to 15 years, and we may need more park and ride service," Shelton said.