New toll road project gets green light

March 10, 2009 4:46:13 PM PDT
Despite opposition and a new lawsuit, Harris County has given the green light to a new segment of the Grand Parkway.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Segment "E" runs just longer than 15 miles and would connect the Katy Freeway (I-10) to the Northwest Freeway (Highway 290). Commissioners did as expected, approving about $10 million in engineering studies that will pave the way for another section of the TxDOT toll project, despite some heated public discussion and even a lawsuit.

Right now, the Grand Parkway abruptly ends on the south side of I-10. But that would change with this extension to Highway 290. From a traffic congestion standpoint, plenty of people support the project.

Peter Haughton with General Growth Properties said, "We need this road to continue the build out of Bridgeland, which we hope will be one of America's best master planned communities."

"If anyone doesn't understand the congestion, come out to the Grand Parkway around 4:30 to 5:30 at I-10 and take a look at what we're experiencing," Ann Hodge of the Katy Area Chamber of Commerce suggested.

The other side to the story, though, is the Katy prairie itself. It's a delicate ecosystem that is home to migratory birds but now it's in the path of expanding development. Monday night, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Federal Transportation Administration, attempting to block the parkway extension from moving forward.

Brandtt Mannchen with the Houston Sierra Club said, "It is because the Sierra Club feels so strongly about protection of the Katy prairie and the harmful effects the proposed project will have on the Katy prairie, that we have filed this lawsuit."

Then there are those who are concerned about the parkway as it winds a nearly 200 mile loop around the region. A Spring realtor opposes it, fearing lowered property values. She got an earful.

Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole said, "I'm going to say when we build it, there are going to be people like yourself and the other lady who say, 'Where the hell have these people been all this time? Why haven't they built this project?'"

The Grand Parkway is a state project and last week the agency approved spending $181 million on the segment from federal stimulus money. Barring any roadblock from the federal lawsuit, construction has to begin soon to meet the terms of the stimulus funding.

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