The opening of the final leg of the Sam Houston Tollway on Sunday will bring much more than easier access to Houston’s northwest side. Real estate experts say the highway is expected to trigger a wave of commercial and residential growth along the tollway’s path between U.S. 290 and Interstate 45.

“Certainly compared to a year ago. I’ve seen increased interest in property in that area,” said David Hightower, senior vice president of Wolff Companies, a commercial real estate developer. “We have several deals under contract for commercial and residential properties. Oil companies are tying up corners for gas stations. And residential properties being sought right off the tollway.” Hightower said. “It’s still a bit early to see new structures. But by next year this time, you will see some structures.”

Last December, Hightower sold a 12.5-acre tract on the tollway just north of U.S. 200. He speculated the property will be used for commercial purposes, probably for an apartment complex. The newest 13-mile leg of the tollway opens to motorists Sunday. The opening will mark the completion of Harris County’s toll road construction projects that were approved by voters in 1983. “Most of the land in the area of the tollway was not accessible. It is low, and it’s close to current development said, Earl D. Elliott, resident of Leggett Properties, a real estate developer. Elliott said real estate activity in northwest Houston is now “the heaviest it has been in many, many years.” Leggett Properties is the developer of more than 2,000 acres in the Winchester Country community, which is between Jones Road and the Sam Houston Tollway.

Brian Binash, vice president of operations for Emerald Homes, a custom builder, said the toll road opens the way for more home builders to build in northwest Houston. “It’s taken away any defensiveness people may have against living in the Lakewood Forest community in that area. It opens up accessibility,” Binash said. Some of the experts have touted the toll road as “the next Loop 610,” saying residential and commercial structures will spring up all along the toll road as they have along the loop. “The Sam Houston Tollway is the most important freeway that has been built since Loop 610,” said Hightower of Wolff Companies.

“The tollway will have a dramatic impact on development and commercial activity in the city,” Elliott of Leggett Properties said simply, “The Sam Houston Tollway is absolutely the next Loop 610. Many people are not yet aware of how it’s going to improve Houston’s mobility.” But some experts are still hesitant  to speculate on how the opening of the toll road will affect development. “I think it’s too early to see any major reflection of increased attention and value because people have not been able to use the tollway to any degree to real degree to realize the impact it will ultimately make.” said E.D. Wulfe, president of Wulfe & Co., a commercial real estate brokerage firm.

Mike Mandvalano, manager of commercial properties for Friendswood Development Co., said he anticipated “a definite increase” in interest in property along the tollway. But, he said he expected the [undefinable text] how easy it will be to get from the southwest part of town to Intercontinental Airport.”
Steve Bennett, public information officer for the toll road authority, said the Sam Houston and Hardy toll roads are helping relieve traffic congestion on all Houston roads.

“Last month, just under 4 million utilized the county’s toll roads which decreased traffic on interstates 10 and 45,” Bennett said “Think how much worse those highways would have been to motorists had not used those to roads.”

In celebration of the completion of the toll road system, Harris County will host a “road party” a 5 p.m. Saturday, featuring a free concert by the rock group, Huey Lewis and the News. Jerry Light foot and the Essential Blues Band also will perform. To get to the party, take the Sam Houston Tollway east to Ella Boulevard Officers will be on hand to [undefined text].