Grand Parkway 2000 Report
This text was presented to the Texas Transportation Commission on November 16, 2000,
by the director of the Grand Parkway Association.
Transcript November 2000
MS. SCHENKE: Good morning. I am Diane Schenke and I
also have with me David Gornet, the assistant director, and hopefully we can
cover this in relatively short order, although we've got so much going on
that we're open to any questions you may have, of course.
I thought we could start off by reviewing the overall
project status and where we are on each of them. The first segment, the one
that is built and open now in Fort Bend County, extends from I-10 West to US
59 South. That was opened in 1994, and Fort Bend County passed bond money
just last week for $2 million to do design work at two major intersections
on that particular leg of the Grand Parkway.
The second section, that I know is near and dear to
Commissioner Nichols' heart, is in the Baytown area, hooks up with the Fred
Hartman Bridge and goes to I-10 East. The first piece of that is scheduled
for letting in September 2001. Right now we are busy on two tasks: one is to
turn over the donated land to the department, and our schedule has that
slated for April of 2001; the other activity is that we've recently filed a
Corps of Engineers permit for the entire I-2 project, and the mitigation
that we have proposed is in connection with the Nature Conservancy. We'll be
enhancing and restoring some wetlands that are near their Atwater Prairie
The third piece that we'll mention just briefly is
Segments A and B on the southeast side of the loop, and until a week ago we
had nothing going on, but Galveston County last week passed a $1.3 million
bond issue that was specifically identified for the Grand Parkway to begin
environmental and engineering studies on the part from I-45 west towards
The final area that's not active at this point is on
the northeast side of town, and we've got no studies under way and no plan
to start those.
The study that is very active right now is the one
that just came on the screen, connects US 59 South with State Highway 288.
We're going to walk you through that process in some detail about where
we've been and what we've done over the last year, but suffice it to say
we've finished the draft environmental impact statement and we'll be issuing
the final environmental impact statement during this next calendar year.
We'll come back to E, F and G. Again, I know that's a
project near and dear to several of your hearts, but I thought we would go
through C in some detail since it's been very active this year.
This is a quick summary of the progress of the project
beginning back in March of '98 and taking us through this summer. I think
the most important lesson from this particular slide is the amount of public
involvement and agency and stakeholder involvement we've had as the process
has moved forward.
Just this summer we have had the meetings that you see
highlighted here, and the ones I would particularly like to draw to your
attention are the HGAC, TPC approval there on October 20; that was a
unanimous approval of the major investment study portion of the draft
environmental impact statement. We also had, as you can see at the top of
the list, formal public hearings at two locations at two ends of Segment C
in June. And we have also had a recent meeting with the US EPA about their
comment letter, and we'll talk more about some of the details they raised.
As you can see, we had a huge number of comments, and
I know many of you personally received some of these letters. We had
approximately 2,200 comments in the June time frame. The vast majority of
those, as you can see, addressed the issues related to Brazos Bend State
Park, and we break these generally into three separate categories.
The first category that is highlighted for you are
alignment-specific issues; the second category are -- for lack of a
better term -- regional issues, and these are the ones that the EPA
primarily focused on. The final category are what we call general concerns,
and while they'll be addressed in detail in the final EIS, most of our
meetings and attention have focused on the first two categories, and I want
to walk you through how we've resolved some of these issues.
First and most importantly, I think, was concern about
the Brazos Bend State Park. You remember that we came so close to the Brazos
Bend State Park in large part because we found an eagle's nest that required
us to move the alignment. After the response about the concern on Brazos
Bend State Park, we had a series of meetings which were highlighted in one
of the earlier slides, with the county officials, the resource agencies,
Federal Highways, and TxDOT to come up with an alignment that would be
further away from the park, a little bit closer to the eagle's nest but
located in such a location that it would be far enough to let the eagles
continue to thrive.
The two red outer alignments were the ones that were
presented in the draft EIS; the one on the top that the arrow is on right
now, we discarded almost immediately because of impacts to wetlands where it
crosses Rabbs Bayou right there where the arrow is located. The red
alignment that's to the south there went within about a half mile of Brazos
Bend State Park which you see outlined in green.
The preferred route that we presented to the public on
Tuesday night is the dark blue line. It comes at the closest about a mile
and a half from Brazos Bend State Park and almost three miles from the
observatory that's located within the park.
I would like to say that on these alignment-specific
issues, the reactions we had on Tuesday night this week at our workshops on
the alignments was generally positive. We've still got some questions to
resolve, and I'll talk about those in a minute.
Other alignment-specific issues we dealt with --
and this would be on the east end of the Route C close to where it comes
into 288 -- we had people from Iowa Colony saying they preferred a more
southern joining at 288, because they wanted it to stay away from their
community. We also had some requests to straighten the alignment so it
wasn't so markedly curved, and again, the changes, the straightening of the
curves happened about where the arrow is near the Darrington Unit, and you
can see that we've suggested the southern alignment that comes in south of
Iowa Colony. Generally people commented positively on those changes.
The final alignment-specific issues relate to the
western or northern end of the alignment near US 59. At our June hearings we
had very strong support of going down Crabb River Road, and that is the one
that we suggested at our hearings on Tuesday night, and David is outlining
that for you right now.
The issues that came up on Tuesday night that we still
need to deal with were expressed by residents that are now close to some of
the realignments. One of the communities is very close to US 59, and the
other community is a little bit further down on the road, but we will meet
with representatives of both of those communities and the local county.
Fortunately, we've got some flexibility, in that the changes they're
requesting don't pose environmental problems, but they certainly will
increase the cost of the alignment.
So to summarize on the alignment-specific issues, I
think we made a great deal of progress between June and October, and the
commenting public generally agreed with us.
We still have other issues to deal with; these are the
regional issues. One of the comments raised by the EPA and the Sierra Club
and other commentators is that the Grand Parkway causes urban sprawl. We've
done several things to try to respond to this.
One of the most significant is that we convened an
expert panel of people in Fort Bend County and Brazoria County from, for
instance, the county engineer's office, county judge's office, people that
are out there making decisions on buying school properties and other
development issues, to talk with us about what this would look like if the
Grand Parkway were not put in, what the land use differences would be 20
years from now.
And the factors they came up with fall into two
categories. One is that there are numerous constraints to development
adjacent to some of the area the Grand Parkway Segment C passes through, and
we've listed those for you and you'll see them pop up on the map here.
The first is the Brazos River flood plain which is
enormous; the second are the parks, the oilfield, the prison unit that
you've already heard something about. And those, in essence, constrain a
great deal of the development. The purple one that just came up is a
proposed mitigation property that the Trust for Public Lands is trying to
put together that, as you can see, would hook up with Brazos Bend State
Park. We are working with the Trust for Public Lands to incorporate this as
part of our mitigation for the few acres of impacts that we will have on
wetlands. So that's the first issue.
The second issue is that there are already numerous
communities that have started. They're not built out necessarily, but these
communities have already started in the general area, they've invested money
in building infrastructure, and we would like to show you where those are.
But you can see that the conclusion of the expert panel was that this area
where there were not constraints would build out with or without the Grand
Parkway, and we see in the next 20 years most of the demand for housing
being filled by developments that are already under way and those are the
ones that are appearing on the screen right now.
Each of these housing developments you can go out and
buy a house in, so these are not ones that are platted or planned; they're
already under way.
I'm just going to quickly review for you the remaining
activities that we've got to do to finish up the environmental work on
Segment C. David has highlighted the $7.3 million bonds that were passed
last week in Fort Bend County. Part of this money is for the detail design
work on the portion of Segment C in Fort Bend County, so as soon as we
finish the environmental work, Fort Bend County is ready to get started.
We had two hearings this week presenting the preferred
alternative, and I think I've highlighted for you the primary issues. I
think we've resolved many of the alignment-specific issues that came up in
the June time frame. We are working right now to prepare the final
environmental impact statement, and that will be submitted next summer. And
we'll have another round of hearings on that, we anticipate, about a year
from now. And you see the rest of it is just a wild guess, and you know that
probably better than we do.
I would like to move on now to talk about E, F and G,
another 52 miles that's in the environmental process. We started the
environmental work on this in August of '99, and you can see that that
portion traverses two different counties in the Houston area, Harris County
and Montgomery County.
We are just concluding the corridor phase of the study
and are working right now on starting four individual environmental impact
statements. The corridor portion of the study initially identified a study
area which is about five miles wide, and then we drew one-mile corridors,
which are the lines you see in this particular slide.
We had hearings in February of this year and received
a great deal of input, both from public and resource agencies and local
county officials. We selected a preferred corridor in June of 2000 and then
drew alignments within that preferred corridor. The three alternate
alignments you see presented here are within the preferred corridor.
We just finished the workshops on those alignments
October 23, 25, and 26. We had three meetings: one that covered the western
portion in Segment E, one that covered the Tomball area starting from 290
over to 249 and then 249 to 45, and finally one at Kingwood College that
covered the 45 to 59 area.
I would say that most of the comments we got at these
public hearings were from citizens in the F-2 area from 249 to 45.
Basically, that area is already densely developed, and it is very difficult
for us to find a corridor to get through that doesn't impact a substantial
number of communities, if not actually taking homes, very close to existing
The major issues, environmental issues that we have to
deal with in this area are, of course, wetlands -- which are a problem
for any major development in the Houston area; bottomland hardwoods, and
this is the northeastern part of that corridor. We have several threatened
and endangered species. We have extensive flood plains adjacent to the San
Jacinto River; numerous historic structures in the F-2/F-1 area, both
historic farms and other homes in the Rosehill and Tomball area.
The existing development, as I've already mentioned,
is extensive, and the new development that's occurring right now even sort
of takes us aback, and we've been in Houston for many years now. David and I
considered it a major advantage that in this last round or workshops we
didn't find yet another new development that was going to block one of our
This is a very rough, tentative schedule on where we
are for our remaining activities. As I said, we presented the alignment
alternatives about two weeks ago to the public. We anticipate having draft
EISs available for review in May of this next year, and we'll be holding
public hearings during the summer; have final EISs out in early 2002, with a
record of decision by May of 2002.
I know that these benefits are probably in --
preaching to the choir, but this is issues that we are presenting in all of
the talks that both David and I give to whether it's the Lions Club or the
local homeowners association, and our conviction is that growth is coming to
the Houston area. HGAC projects 2-1/2 million people in the next 20 years,
and the alternatives are something that looks like the Grand Parkway or
something that looks like the I-45 corridor or 1960.
And to highlight those differences, we've got these
pictures. This is Highway 6, which started off as a two-lane rural road and
has gradually been expanded over time, and this is one likely scenario if
the Grand Parkway does not go in. By contrast, this is what the Grand
Parkway looks like in the part that's built and operating now on the west
side of town.
Again, the plans for the Grand Parkway don't look
like -- this is US 59 out southwest of town. You can see the continuous
feeder roads and the strip shopping center development. By contrast, this is
what the Grand Parkway will be designed to look like with entrance and exit
ramps, but we will not have continuous feeder roads and will minimize strip
development. And we think a road that looks like this is much preferable to
the customary pattern of handling growth in the Houston area.
So with that summary, that is a very quick overview of
what we've been up to.
MR. NICHOLS: As usual, you do an excellent job on your
presentations. You have just done a remarkable job overall with the Grand
MS. SCHENKE: Thank you.
MR. NICHOLS: There's just incredible obstacles to
overcome and pull those communities together and continue moving forward, so
I certainly compliment you on it.
David, do you have anything?
MR. LANEY: Diane, I appreciate the presentation,
again, and all the work you do on a challenging exercise, long term,
needless to say. I very much appreciate the detail with which you responded
and presented to us with respect to the response to the urban sprawl issue.
It doesn't look like it will be an obstacle, as far as I'm concerned. I
think it's a great response to an issue that seems to have all sorts of
definitions and is thrown in the way of any sort of road development at all,
and so I think the response was very carefully thought out.
MS. SCHENKE: One piece I did not emphasize enough in
the overview is the support and amount of work we do with the local TxDOT
office, Federal Highways out of Austin, the HGAC. Many of these issues are
common to all of us, like the urban sprawl and regional development, and
we've worked very closely with them and received a great deal of support
from all of those entities in moving forward, so they're good partners.
MR. NICHOLS: Let me ask you one question. I know we've
had discussions in the past about keeping the option open through the public
hearing process on some of these legs or segments about tolling. Was tolling
MS. SCHENKE: We get the question often, Commissioner
Nichols, and when we respond that this group, the commission, feels that all
new capacity should be tolled so that dollars are generated to meet the
shortfall between monies available and the list of approved projects,
everybody sort of nods. So we get the question often and when we respond
that it very well may be a toll road, people sort of shrug and move on.
MR. NICHOLS: But through the environmental process, it
is always left open as an option.
MS. SCHENKE: Yes, sir.
MR. NICHOLS: Because we don't know what the
legislature will or will not let us do on the toll equity issue which will
be, probably, a key to that.
MS. SCHENKE: This may be more detail than you want.
What we have said is that there's a possibility. We haven't speculated on
where the toll plazas would be, what effect that would have on traffic, and
our thought is that were we to proceed with tolling, for instance Segment C,
after the particulars were worked out, there may need to be a supplemental
environmental document to cover the specifics, but we have covered it in a
general way, yes, sir.
MR. NICHOLS: Thank you very much.
MR. LANEY: Thank you, Diane, appreciate it.
MS. SCHENKE: Thank you.