With construction on section 1 of the Hwy. 249 toll road—from Spring Cypress Road to FM 2920—poised to begin in the fall of 2013, officials from Tomball, Magnolia and Navasota, as well as Harris and Montgomery counties gathered at the annual 249 Partnership meeting Dec. 11 in Magnolia to discuss how a project of such magnitude is likely to affect the economic development of each area.
“For us to keep this area an economic gem, we need to bring mobility," said Jack Cagle, commissioner of Precinct 4 in Harris County. "You're not doing business when you're stuck in traffic."
The meeting kicked off with the appointment of nine members to a permanent 249 Partnership board, with three officials representing each city. Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan was appointed to chair the board, while Magnolia city administrator Paul Mendes was selected to be vice chair and Peter Canney, mayor pro-tem in Navasota, was appointed secretary/treasurer.
The Hwy. 249 toll road is expected to significantly improve mobility and strengthen connections from Tomball, Magnolia and Navasota to downtown Houston. As a result, these cities will become more appealing to businesses looking to relocate, said Kelly Violette, executive director of the Tomball Economic Development Corporation.
“In the Tomball area, we're already starting to see growth based on these transportation projects,” she said, pointing to the development of a new Baker Hughes training facility as an example. “[Baker Hughes] made it very clear to us that, had we not had the transportation improvements planned with the Grand Parkway and Hwy. 249, this facility would not have been located in our area.”
Improving mobility shortens travel time, which has the effect of creating larger customer bases for businesses, as well as larger pools of potential employees, said David Ellis, research scientist of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. The roadway is also expected to open up a lot of new land for commercial development.
“Everyone within a certain distance is a potential customer,” he said. “If we increase mobility, we expand the labor force as well as access to markets.”
Increasing mobility also has an impact on quality of life that cannot be measured, Ellis said.
“One of the things most of us can relate to is being a parent,” he said. “When traffic gets worse, it becomes harder to make those recitals and soccer games. We leave home earlier and come back later. This makes a community less attractive to live in.”
Following the completion of section 1, work will begin on the portion of the road running from FM 2920 to FM 1774 in Montgomery County. Due to a lack of money in Montgomery County, the Harris County Toll Road Authority has agreed to help with preliminary funding on this section.
“Both counties have recognized the significance of this project,” said Craig Doyal, Montgomery County Precinct 2 commissioner. “I think the cooperative effort helps all of us meet the needs of our counties.”
Russell Zapalac, chief planning and project officer with the Texas Department of Transportation, said plans are in the works to continue the road through to Hwy. 6 in Navasota, but this would come years down the line.
“Over the next three months we will be looking into getting an environmental team working on the portion north of FM 1774,” he said. “Once we get the planning and environmental clearances done, we can start talking about construction. We'd like to make this a reality in the next five to six years.”
The next meeting of the 249 Partnership will be in March.