A proposed flyover at I-45 and Research Forest and an overpass at Research Forest and Grogan’s Mill Road are coming under fire from local leaders as The Woodlands Development Company is looking to secure federal funding for the projects it says will improve mobility.
The development company is hoping to land the two projects on the federally funded Transportation Improvements Project list, which will allocate about $400 million to approved mobility projects between 2013 and 2016.
However, the cities of Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah are opposing the projects, claiming they have not been fully involved in the planning process and have not been provided alternative solutions to easing traffic congestion along I-45.
“There has not been data presented to the City of Shenandoah by a traffic engineer saying that this flyover is needed,” said Greg Smith, administrator for the City of Shenandoah.
Robert Heineman, vice president of planning for The Woodlands Development Company, said the development company conducted a study of major intersections and determined the intersection at the I-45 northbound frontage road and Research Forest Drive, and the intersection of Research Forest Drive and Grogan’s Mill Road were in most need of improvements.
“Those were the two that stood out that had a current F level of service, which is the worst level,” Heineman said.
Last month, The Woodlands Chamber of Commerce’s Mobility Team, which Heineman chairs, presented the findings of a the study, as well as schematics of the proposed flyover and overpass, to local leaders, including Smith and City of Oak Ridge City Manager Vicky Rudy.
Rudy said a flyover at Research Forest could have a negative impact on Oak Ridge North, particularly on commercial establishments located along the I-45 northbound frontage road.
“[The Woodlands Parkway flyover] has affected the east side [of I-45],” Rudy said. “Just look at south of Robinson Road.”
She said Oak Ridge North was not approached by the development company about the projects and that the city would need to conduct its own engineering study to determine the need for the flyover.
“We want to be given an option,” Rudy said.
Heineman said he believes there may not be another option.
“Never say never, but we’ve asked our engineers that, and they haven’t come up with any other options,” he said.
City councils of both Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah have formally passed resolutions opposing the projects.
During last month’s mobility meeting, Heineman also presented the results of a traffic count study conducted by the development company during what he said were “peak hours.”
The study showed that if a flyover were implemented, only 120 drivers would be making a left turn at the light-controlled intersection, while the remaining 741 would take the flyover.
The report stated that drivers experience a delay of about 139.2 seconds at the I-45 northbound/Research Forest intersection. With a direct connect overpass, the delay could drop to about 33 seconds. Smith disputes both the accuracy of the data and the traffic counts. He said the data provided to those at the meeting differed than what was initially provided to Shenandoah.
“Those numbers have not been formally given to the city,” Smith said.
He also pointed to an annual traffic count study prepared by the development company and Atkins Engineering released in February that shows traffic counts at the I-45/Research Forest intersection down from 41,233 in 2009 to 33,709 in 2012, a decrease of 18 percent.
“It seems like it’s a $6.8 million project to avoid two traffic lights,” Smith said.
Heineman said at the meeting that mobility decisions should be made based on how best to improve traffic flow for commuters, rather than on the impact they will have on businesses.
For the projects to be included on the TIP, Heineman said the entity making the proposal must ensure a 20 percent local match, which he said has been promised by The Woodlands Road Utility District No. 1. Additionally, projects hoping to land on the TIP must be graded and if the score isn’t high enough, “then that’s the end of the line,” Heineman said.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council, which determines which local projects will be included in the TIP, will be conducting studies on the two projects in October and November. HGAC will decide in December which projects will make it to the TIP.