'Tollways to trailways:' HCTRA unveils new $53M plan to expand off the roads

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- The Harris County Toll Road Authority is unveiling a $53 million plan to connect hiking and cycling trails in areas around the toll roads.

Our partners at the Houston Chronicle were first to report the plan after the commissioners' court voted to approve it this week.

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis showed maps of part of the Harris County Toll Road Authority's plan called, 'Tollways to Trailways', which connects about 236 miles of trails for walking or cycling in areas around the Harris County Toll Roads including the Sam Houston parkway. Ellis said the goal is to improve transportation, safety and accessibility.

"You have a number of connectors into various communities that are adjacent to the toll road," Ellis said, "and that's perfectly in compliance with the statute to be able to do that and then when looking at a long term possibility is creating a major outer belt where those toll roads were, so you have about an 80 mile loop around the region. I think it's a game changer."

He said the funds for the projects would come from surplus revenue from the tollways.

"This will be money that can be used that is on top of what it takes to service the debt for the toll roads, (to) keep the toll roads repaired and keep them running," Ellis said. "So the term 'surplus' can throw you off a little bit so there will still be tolls collected on a regular basis. This will be money in excess, I'm using that term broadly, in excess of what it takes to operate the toll roads."

The draft of the plan is about 128 pages and is a collaboration between the toll authority, Harris County and other partners.

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