Photo by Andrew Richardson
Following years of planning and debate, Harris County Commissioners Court approved an initial agreement April 10 with the Texas Department of Transportation to add toll lanes to Hwy. 290.
“All the commissioners know what’s needed in their precincts, and this helps all of you make those improvements that will keep your communities growing,” said Judge Ed Emmett. “I think this is a great step.”
The proposed project—which would be constructed between Loop 610 and the Grand Parkway—calls for building a two or three-lane reversible managed lane facility for high occupancy vehicles and toll traffic, and includes the addition of one general lane in both directions. The project will be similar to the Katy Managed Lanes on I-10, which consist of toll and HOV lanes in the middle of the freeway, according to Eric Hanson, media relations coordinator for the Harris County Tollroad Authority.
The memorandum of understanding—a document that expresses mutual agreement to work together— with TxDOT proposes tolled lanes on three Houston-area highways—Hwy. 290, Hwy. 288 and the Grand Parkway. It also requires specific project agreements for development, financing, maintenance and construction between the two entities before the joint efforts can begin on any of the projects.
“I’ve told TxDOT we will question and seek clarity on four specifics on the 290 agreement—which requires a $400 million investment—and provides for additional capacity with the provision of managed lanes,” said Art Storey, executive director of the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department.
The county will request a share of the fees for the toll operations, and it will seek a credit for its investment of approximately $80 million for advanced funding for Segment E of the Grand Parkway.
“TxDOT officials have assured me all these issues can be addressed as we work toward project agreements,” Storey said. “We’ll see if they can be agreed upon.”
Several projects to improve Hwy. 290 have been proposed in the past few years, including the Hempstead Toll Road. In favor of rebuilding Hwy. 290 with toll lanes, Harris County is no longer pursuing the project, according to Hanson. When construction begins on Hwy. 290, TxDOT plans to rehabilitate Old Hempstead Road, which will serve as an alternative route.
Although the item was approved unanimously, Commissioner Jack Morman added an amendment to the memorandum of understanding.
“I had serious reservations and concerns, which stemmed from the fact I was concerned our $400 million contribution would put other [Harris County Toll Road Authority] projects further back,” he said.
Morman made a motion to amend the item—but not the memorandum of understanding—to ensure the agreement would not further set back any HCTRA projects in any of the county’s precincts.
At a capital projects review in June, schedules and resources will be laid out for meeting the challenges in the agreement, as well as for other projects on the horizon, Storey said.
“This is a worthy and significant step forward for 290, 288 and the Grand Parkway, but not the whole distance,” he said.