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Grand Parkway to improve mobility in Spring area

 Three segments of the Grand Parkway—Houston’s third outer loop—are expected to bring improved mobility and new developments to northern Harris County after the roadway opens to traffic at the end of 2015. Segments F-1, F-2 and G of the Grand Parkway will connect Hwy. 290 to Hwy. 59, bringing the proposed 184-mile roadway one step closer to completion.

“A road like the Grand Parkway coming into our region will affect our economy because it allows us to have improved mobility from one region to another, it takes pressure off other roads and it draws traffic to itself,” Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said. “We’re already seeing property values increase and communities growing in areas that were previously inaccessible. All of this brings in a revitalization of economic energy.”

The Grand Parkway was originally conceptualized in the 1960s, but ground did not break on the three northern segments until mid-2013. The Texas Department of Transportation signed an agreement in 2012 with developer Zachry-Odebrecht Parkway Builders to construct segments F-1, F-2 and G simultaneously for approximately $1 billion in an effort to move forward on the project that is expected to improve mobility in the Greater Houston area.

“[The Grand Parkway] will assist with dispersing traffic off the existing, overcrowded arteries offering a shorter drive across outer urban communities and improving safety on roadways,” said Linda Merritt, public information officer with Zachry-Odebrecht. “The lessening of traffic time represents business opportunities to expand service areas and gives potential customers more choices.”

Segment F-2 will run through the Spring/Klein area beginning at Hwy. 249 about 1,000 feet south of the existing Boudreaux Road. The segment will travel 12 miles east to I-45 at the southern edge of Springwoods Village north of Spring Stuebner Road.

The design of Segment F-2 will be similar to the other segments of the Grand Parkway with two tolled lanes in each direction. There will be no continuous frontage roads along Segment F-2—instead the toll road will feature 10 exits to connecting roadways, not including the two direct connectors to I-45. However, there will be several areas with reasonably long frontage roads, such as west of I-45 to Springwoods Village Parkway and from east of Boudreaux Road past FM 2920.

There are no direct connectors planned for the interchange at Hwy. 249 included in the scope of the project, but the building of future direct connectors will be determined by TxDOT at a later date, Merritt said.

Drivers will need an EZ Tag, Texas Tag or North Texas Toll Road Authority tag to enter the roadway. David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Association, said drivers who use the toll road without a tag will be caught electronically and mailed a bill. Those motorists could be subject to additional fees and penalties, he said.

The toll rate per mile will be the same as other Harris County Toll Road Authority toll roads. Gornet said the Grand Parkway was constructed as a toll road because of the lack of state funding.

“We haven’t raised gas taxes since 1991,” Gornet said. “The state only takes in so much money and everyone wants to get roads built, but they’re not willing to raise taxes. The state has explored ways to fund them without raising taxes, and one of the ways of doing that is a user fee, or a toll.”

Improved mobility

Local officials said the Grand Parkway will provide better mobility options for getting to and from major highways around the Greater Houston area.

“The Grand Parkway will open up mobility through the north side of the Houston metro area,” Gornet said. “It will allow for better access to jobs and residential and commercial areas.”

Mobility has a substantial impact on people’s options and ability to access work, home and other places they need to go, said Barbara Thomason, president of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce.

“The Houston area has been so smart about its freeway design, and I think [the Grand Parkway] is just a tremendous addition to our road system,” she said.

The completion of the Grand Parkway comes at nearly the same time as 10,000 employees are expected to converge on an upcoming 385-acre ExxonMobil campus north of the toll road near I-45 and the Hardy Toll Road.

Cagle said Harris County Precinct 4 is planning about half a dozen major transportation projects in Spring in preparation for the expected increase in traffic. Widening portions of Gosling, Riley Fuzzel, Spring Cypress and Spring Stuebner roads—all of which connect or run parallel to the Grand Parkway—are in the works.

“We’re trying to put the infrastructure in place to handle the volume,” Cagle said. “Many of our roads won’t link directly to the Grand Parkway, but they’ll be collectors as the traffic comes off the roadway.”

Economic development

When Segment D of the Grand Parkway opened in Katy in 1994, it brought with it two decades of growth—a scenario local officials said they believe will also occur in northern Harris County.

“If [businesses] can make more trips in a day, they can improve profitability and success rates,” Cagle said. “It’s as basic as simple economics—being able to move around improves the ability to do business and reduce costs. We can continue to draw and attract people and businesses to the region as long as we keep up with mobility needs.”

Commercial developments are already planned along Segment F-2 in the Spring/Klein area. H-E-B is in negotiations for a possible grocery store just south of where the Grand Parkway will run near Gleannloch Farms. Additionally, NewQuest Properties is developing the Grand Parkway Town Center at the southwest corner of Hwy. 249 and the Grand Parkway, which will feature 570,000 square feet of retail.

David Meyers, broker for the project, said the developer is in talks with a grocer to anchor the center, but NewQuest is several months away from making an announcement.

Farther east, Halberdier Real Estate plans to turn up to 47 acres at the southwest corner of Riley Fuzzel Road and the Hardy Toll Road into a mixed-use development, citing the Grand Parkway as a major consideration in buying the property.

“We like it because the site is just far enough south of the off ramps so that we are the first truly accessible site after exiting onto Hardy,” president and founder Trey Halberdier said.

The project, Hardy North Office Park, could be built-out in three years.

“I think the key here overall is that you’ve got the perfect storm of Intercontinental Airport, Hardy Toll Road, Grand Parkway and ExxonMobil all being in that vicinity,” Halberdier said. “We are hedging on that 47 acres being a great affordable alternative to [the] Woodlands prices.”