Toll option coming to stretch of Grand Parkway
Work is slated to begin in mid-August to create a toll option on a 13-mile stretch of the Grand Parkway in Fort Bend County that would allow motorists to avoid traffic lights.
The project would create numerous tolled overpasses along the roadway, also known as Texas 99, from FM 1093 to U.S. 59.
The effort is being undertaken by the Fort Bend County Grand Parkway Toll Road Authority, which is led by a board whose members also lead the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority. The $162 million project is being financed with borrowed funds, which will be repaid with future toll revenues.
The overpasses would be built at West Riverpark Drive, New Territory and West Airport boulevards, Harlem and Bellaire. In addition, combined overpasses are planned for Sandhill, U.S. 90A and FM 1464; Mason and Morton; and the Westpark Tollway and FM 1093.
Also included is the design for a future Peek Road overpass. The current project doesn't seek its construction.
The existing lanes of the parkway will be incorporated into the project and will be used by both toll-paying motorists and those who choose not to use the tolled overpasses.
Options for motorists
When the project is done, motorists will have two options when approaching an overpass - pay to use the overpass and avoid the traffic lights at the intersection, or use the frontage road and avoid the toll.
There will be no toll booths, and all tolls will have to be paid electronically using the EZ Tag system.
Mike Stone, the county's toll road consultant, said the authority is finishing the overpass designs and will soon seek construction bids. Also near completion is a traffic projection and toll revenue study, he said.
Two of the smaller overpasses, one at West Airport Boulevard and the other at West Riverpark Drive, would be built first, he said. The remaining overpasses are slated to be built by the second quarter of 2013, he said.
The project is part of the Texas Department of Transportation's pursuit of a Grand Parkway toll road looping around the Houston area.
Divided in 11 sections, the parkway includes the completed 18.2-mile Segment D that runs through both Harris and Fort Bend counties from Interstate 10 to U.S. 59.
Recognizing growing traffic on the existing Grand Parkway, Fort Bend County officials decided to take over the tolled Segment D construction to speed up the project while maintaining local control. In May 2010, Commissioners Court created the Grand Parkway authority to lead the project.
County commissioners Andy Meyers and Richard Morrison said they had preferred the Grand Parkway be expanded without the overpasses being tolled. Nevertheless, they endorsed the state's tolled approach due to the lack of state funding and the need to gain local control over the project.
"There is a tremendous amount of traffic along Segment D, and it will continue to increase in this area," said Morrison.
Some oppose it
Meyers said the project, while welcomed by motorists who want a faster north-south corridor unimpeded by traffic lights, has drawn opposition from residents who live along its path. Stone said a noise barrier is being considered along the eastern edge of the parkway at the RiverPark subdivision on the outskirts of Sugar Land near U.S. 59.
"People are concerned about increase in traffic and noise. I recognize that," Meyers said. "This project has pros and cons. But we need the larger road capacity."
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