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Grand Parkway is back

County needs TxDOT deal

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Harris County is negotiating with the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to maintain primacy over the proposed development of the Grand Parkway, a 180 mile toll road around the Houston region, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The proposed Segment E of the Grand Parkway is currently awaiting passage of a final hurtle, the granting of an Army Corps of Engineers permit to allow the destruction of wetlands, a proposal that has drawn criticism from local nonprofits, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (pdf).

Harris County is struggling to maintain control of the project because of the threat that TXDOT could impose the project on the region and decide what to do with the toll revenues itself.  Following the guidelines in bill passed in the 2009 Texas Legislature, Harris County declared its primacy for developing the project. As soon as all legal hurdles are cleared, Harris County must begin building the proposed Grand Parkway Segment E within two years or primacy will revert to TXDOT who could theoretically contract with a private firm or foreign entity to build the toll road.

If Harris County can make a deal with the state, it could begin building a 15-mile segment of the Grand Parkway next year, according to the Chronicle:

If the two sides cannot reach a deal, the plan goes on the state’s to-do list and stays on the drawing board, where it has been since the 1960s.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday authorized the Harris County Toll Road Authority to negotiate with the Texas Department of Transportation over the development of three Grand Parkway segments inside Harris County with a total length of more than 40 miles. Segment E, which would run roughly from Interstate 10 to U.S. 290, is next up for construction.

State legislation gives Harris County two years after it receives federal permits to start building. It has not yet received those permits, but the county won a lawsuit that challenged the project on environmental grounds.

“If we come to an agreement, then Harris County will build it, then we’ll start as soon as possible, perhaps next year,” County Judge Ed Emmett. “If for some reason we can’t come to an agreement, then it’s TxDOT’s highway again, but I think an agreement can be reached.”

Off the Kuff comments

Previous Houston Tomorrow coverage:
Prairie Conservancy has issues with Parkway plan
County dismisses Parkway condemnation lawsuits
Harris County withdraws Grand Parkway Seg E funding
Storey recommends no stimulus money for Parkway

Background: The Grand Parkway is a decades-old project designed to “open areas for development,” according to a TxDOT official, and to “get out in front of growth,” according to several local elected officials. It had been essentially stymied until stimulus money from the American Recovery and Investment Act became available for Segment E. That project proved to be not “shovel ready” and funding was taken away from the project. Segment E, the next section to be built, and the hoped-for development along it would erase nearly half of the remaining Katy Prairie, a sensitive area that provides natural wetlands and flooding services and wildlife habitat. Based on the development scale along the existing piece of the Parkway, the whole Parkway project and its ensuing development would displace some 1,100 square miles of Big Thicket, Piney Woods, Columbia Bottomlands, Prairie Systems, and Bayou Wilderness. There has been no public discussion about this policy of replacin a large swath of land in those ecosystems with development.

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