Community Impact Newspaper By Christopher Shelton March 9, 2016
Propelled by the passage of the $700 million road bond referendum in November, Harris County has outlined its initial investment of bond funds toward transportation infrastructure in the Spring and Klein area.
Harris County Precinct 4 has prioritized north-south roadways that connect to the Grand Parkway with its first wave of bond funds—expansion projects for Gosling and Hufsmith-Kohrville roads have reached the study phase of Harris County’s capital improvement process.
The thoroughfares will be among the first Precinct 4 projects funded through the November bond, said Pamela Rocchi, director of the Harris County Precinct 4 Capital Improvement Projects Division.
“Precinct 4 would not be able to continue the capital improvement program if voters had not approved the 2015 bond referendum, [which] will provide a revenue stream to support the proposed project development needs,” Rocchi said.
One of four bond proposals approved by voters in November, the $700 million mobility fund bond package will help the county accommodate an anticipated rapid population growth over the next 15 years, Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said. In Spring and Klein, development and population growth surrounding corporate campuses, the Grand Parkway and master-planned communities is driving the need for more transportation infrastructure funding, said Jack Searcy, who served as chairman of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee for 18 years until he retired in January.
Residents pay for bumper-to-bumper traffic with wasted fuel and increased car repairs, Searcy said.
“We’ve got to pay for these roads if we want them—they are deteriorating,” Searcy said. “Cagle is doing a good job of trying, but it takes a ton of money. If we don’t stay ahead, we’ll be back in gridlock. And it’s much cheaper to build before the growth happens. Most people don’t realize how much it costs them just sitting in traffic.”
Precinct 4, which includes all of Spring and Klein, will receive 30 percent of the transportation funding based on the county’s current formula and precinct boundaries, Harris County Budget Officer Bill Jackson said. The precincts are redrawn every 10 years.
“What we can do is to do our best to try to keep up with [population growth],” Cagle said. “And then hopefully, over time, as the area matures and stabilizes, then we’ll be able to catch up and to continue under the good service that everyone expects.”
Gosling and Hufsmith-Kohrville roads allow drivers to travel from Spring to The Woodlands and Tomball, respectively. Cagle said these roads are critical north-south thoroughfares that pass under segments F-1 and F-2 of the Grand Parkway—a 24-mile east-west stretch of tollway between Hwy. 290 to I-45 that opened in February.
“I view the county as having rims and spokes in terms of getting around [east and west] and getting around [north and south],” Cagle said. “The Grand Parkway coming through and some of the improvements that we’re making on Spring Cypress and Louetta roads all are sort of rim projects, and the Grand Parkway in particular is an important rim project.”
Gosling Road segments 2 and 3, which will expand the thoroughfare from two lanes to four or five lanes between West Mossy Oaks Road and Creekside Forest Drive, are in the study phase. Meanwhile, the county is planning a similar expansion for Hufsmith-Kohrville Road between Hollow Glen Lane and Holderrieth Road in Tomball, Rocchi said.
Next, county engineers will design the road and purchase necessary rights of way before construction begins. Construction costs are estimated at $20 million to complete Gosling Road segments 2 and 3 and Hufsmith-Kohrville segments 2-4, Rocchi said.
The expansion of the north-south thoroughfares in the area will provide relief to I-45, which is heavily congested at peak times, and provides more travel options to the area, said Paula Lenz, executive director of the North Houston Association, an economic development organization in Northwest Houston.
“Having additional north-south roadways takes strain and traffic off I-45,” Lenz said. “So having funds to build some of those north-south [thoroughfares] is really important.”
These projects follow the extension of other north-south thoroughfares near the Grand Parkway with funds from previous road bonds.
The county completed an extension of Holzwarth Road from Spring Stuebner Road into master-planned community Springwoods Village in late 2014. Construction is also expected to begin in the first quarter of 2016 on the widening of Aldine Westfield Road between Louetta and Riley Fuzzel roads.
The approved bond also included an additional $60 million to help fund maintenance projects in older neighborhoods. Cagle said county engineers are completing a study to determine which neighborhoods are most in need. He said he expects a preliminary report within the next three months.
Many of the subdivisions built along FM 1960, including neighborhoods in the Champions area, have transportation infrastructure where its age exceeds its designed lifespan, Harris County engineer John Blount said.
The funding will be distributed based on need and the municipal utility district’s willingness to help fund and plan the project with the county, Cagle said. MUDs partnering with Harris County will be given will be given a higher priority, he said.
“We’re looking at all of our projects from a perspective of how can we make the best improvement with the dollars,” Cagle said. “We have our list of the top projects because we won’t be able to do them all right away. They’ll trickle in over time.”
Long-term mobility planning
The referendum will help fund mobility projects throughout Precinct 4 over the next seven to 10 years and could provide money to a number of future projects being considered by county officials.
The county plans to create an additional Gosling Road bridge over Spring Creek, expanding the road from two to four lanes. The $7 million project could be funded with bond money, Rocchi said.
Additionally, Precinct 4 has identified Holzwarth and East Mossy Oaks Roads as possible extension projects that could receive funding from the November bond, Rocchi said.
There is no timetable set for the northern extension of Holzwarth Road into The Woodlands. However, the project is on Precinct 4’s Capital Improvement Projects Master Plan, she said.
And while the county has acquired rights of way for the western extension of East Mossy Oaks, development of the road will depend on the pace of the westward expansion of master-planned community Springwoods Village. This road expansion would eliminate the missing portions of Mossy Oaks Road between Rothwood Road and the Mossy Oaks subdivision’s western boundary.
“I’m like the dad with a dozen kids trying to decide which child needs a new pair of shoes the most,” Cagle said. “I love all of the communities, and I’m very carefully weighing those decisions on which one of the children should get the new shoes.”