Controversial Project Takes Big Step

Harris County Commissioners vote on plans to proceed with an important segment of the Grand Parkway. It comes despite a plea from opponents who said that the segment would not provide benefit to enough people. Pat Hernandez has the story.

Planning for the 185 mile Grand Parkway Project has been on the table for over two decades, but only a portion has been constructed. Harris County Commissioners agreed to build and maintain a portion of the Grand Parkway. Segment-E will connect Interstate-10 and U.S. 290.

County Judge Ed Emmett: "Our agreement is to get started on segment-E again — if we can cross all the T's and dot all the I's with TxDot in the next two weeks — so that we will basically build it as a toll road."

Judge Emmett says the vote gives Harris County the right to build Segment-E and that's it.

"If at some point down the line, TxDot continues to insist that the entire Grand Parkway be built by one entity, then we can opt out, at which point TxDot buys us out of it, and then it all becomes a TxDot project."

image of Mary Ann Piacentini

Those who opposed the expansion included Mary Ann Piacentini of the Katy Prairie Conservancy. She told Commissioners the present landscape is home to 300-species of resident and migratory birds and over a hundred species of other wildlife. Even more species of grasses, plants and wildflowers exist.

"But segment-E, as proposed, will cut a swath through the prairie, close to the Conservancy's eastmost preserves that will have a profound impact, not only on the land that will be paved, but on the prairie habitat on both sides of the proposed right of way."

image of Robin Holzer

Robin Holzer is with the Citizens Transportation Coalition. She says the only major residential developments near the proposed 14-mile segment aren't close to each other, and that two-thirds of the road would go through open country.

"Everyday literally hundreds of thousands of people are sitting in traffic on 290, and they need alternatives. They need things like commuter rail or maybe the Hempstead managed lanes. There's another toll project right there that could give them alternatives. But instead, you're talking about the segment of the Grand Parkway that is so far out, it cuts across a largely uninhabited part of the county, and it's not going to bring relief to any but a handful of people out there."

Judge Emmett says that brings one big question.

"Do you get in front of growth? Do you lag behind growth? Do we add the congestion by not building this? This is not a new project. This isn't something that somebody suddenly said 'Ah, we need to go complete a Grand Parkway."

Segment-E is expected to cost over 400-million dollars. Negotiations continue with the Texas Department of Transportation over who should develop the rest of the entire Grand Parkway.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF...Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...