The Houston Chronicle
Some along NASA Road 1 left marooned
RUTH RENDON; Staff
May 25, 1992
Webster residents voted against bonds to pay for the city's
share of expanding NASA Road 1, and state funds for highway
projects are dwindling.
But neither fact is keeping officials of other cities along
NASA Road 1 from trying to convince the highway department to
proceed with plans to expand the road.
But the NASA Road 1 project, as well as other highway
projects throughout the state, is on hold, said Janelle Gbur, a
spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Transportation.
A mandate from the Legislature for the department to
re-evaluate its list of priority projects and a federal
transportation bill passed last year ""put a whole new twist on how
highway construction work is funded,'' Gbur said.
The changes brought on by the federal bill -- a restriction
to the amount that can be spent for doing added-capacity work --
keeps the NASA Road 1 project from being a top priority, she said.
The highway department had hoped to start the project in 1989
and have it completed before the scheduled Oct. 16 opening of Space
Center Houston, a tourist attraction at the Johnson Space Center.
Webster is the only community along the 7.7-mile stretch from
Interstate 45 to Texas 146 that has not committed to paying 10
percent for the right-of-way costs.
The $ 1.7 million bond issue that would have paid the 10
percent and the cost of relocating utility lines was defeated on
May 2 by 16 votes. Voters, however, approved a $ 350,000 bond issue
to pay for a pedestrian walkway across NASA Road 1 near three
Other cities believe the expansion is important, not only for
access to the space center but also as an evacuation route in case
of a hurricane or flooding.
"We feel that there is definitely a safety problem. We feel
we've got to have that expansion," said Seabrook City Manager
When the $ 60 million project was given federal approval in
1989, it was to be built with 75 percent in federal funds and the
rest paid by the state and local entities.
"Under the new federal bill, we do not have any specific
dollar figures that we can count on just yet, and we won't until
our commission gives us additional guidance," Gbur said. The
highway commission, she said, is scheduled to meet next month.
Webster City Manager Al Holguin said the city agrees that
improvements to NASA Road 1 are needed. However, he believes the
highway department can alleviate traffic on the road by working on
other outlets north of NASA Road 1
"This is something we have always contended: that the
solution shouldn't totally be based on NASA Road 1," Holguin said.
He said NASA Road 1 traffic could be eased by directing cars
heading to the Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston onto
FM 2351, Pineloch, El Dorado, Bay Area and Medical Center and then
south to the center.
"We feel once you start dispersing and expanding those other
roadways, the present design and the enormity of the design for the
expansion of NASA Road 1 could be cut back," he said.
Gbur said working on other routes would fall within the new
federal bill restrictions because they are considered added
capacity. The bill encourages the use of public transportation and
mass transit systems, particularly in the Houston area where the
Clean Air Act has put restrictions on pollution, she said.
For NASA Road 1, the expansion plans call for complete
modification of the road at Interstate 45 and widening the road
from four lanes to six lanes with a divider to Texas 3
Four lanes are scheduled to be expanded to eight lanes of
divided roadway from Texas 3 to El Camino Real. Overpasses also are
planned across Texas 3 and El Camino Real.
The projected 42-month-long construction job also calls for
six lanes to be built from the space center to Texas 146 in
Seabrook. Some flood-prone areas are to be elevated to at least 10
feet above sea level.
Seabrook officials have suggested the construction start at
Texas 146 and move west toward the interstate.
But Gbur said such a plan would "be highly unlikely since
the problem is at I-45 in Webster. It simply would not be a real
practical utilization of the funds.
"Quite honestly, there are many worthy projects around the
Houston area we could do with the same money, go someplace else and
do a completed facility to provide a good level of service and give
it to people who actually want it," she said. "We need to
remember that with just so much money to go around we're going to
try to get the most for our buck and I don't think we could do that
by piecemealing the NASA Road 1 job. "
Already, the communities of Seabrook, Nassau Bay, El Lago and
Taylor Lake Village have passed resolutions urging the highway
department to proceed with the project. The communities have
scheduled a joint public hearing for July 9 to discuss the project.
The other cities along NASA Road 1 -- Friendswood, Houston,
Nassau Bay, Pasadena, El Lago, Taylor Lake Village and Seabrook --
are not blaming Webster for the delay.
"It's not the city of Webster's responsibility to build and
maintain state highways," said David Stall, city manager for
Added Pinto, "We are not at odds with the city of Webster.
They had an election and they're doing what they think is right. "
Like Webster, the city of Seabrook must relocate utility
lines. The city had planned to move the trunk sewer line while the
road was expanded and keep the line within the purchased
right-of-way to save on land-acquisition costs.
But since the road project has stalled, the city is
proceeding with its $ 2 million project to move the line within a
purchased easement along NASA Road 1.If the dormant project is
revised, the state will have to buy and relocate the sewer line,