“There are potential opportunities to help advance [the Grand Parkway] in its entirety over the short term,” according to John Barton, assistant executive director for the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) engineering operations, told the Transportation Policy Council (TPC) of the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) on Friday, according to Guidry News.
Barton said the Texas Transportation Commission had voted on Thursday to “accept primacy” for the Grand Parkway, or State Highway 99. This came after Harris County Commissioners Court had earlier voted to ask TxDOT to take on the project and to reimburse the County for its expenses to date.
Barton told the TPC the following:
“In making their decision yesterday they asked staff and directed staff to begin to develop plans to continue the advancement of the Grand Parkway in Harris County and have asked us to start the process of trying to identify funding for those projects and to allow that to proceed quickly.
“I would expect that as we continue that effort we will be bringing actions before the commission over the next 2-3 months to allow them an opportunity to make some decisions for the purposes of advancing those projects. There are certain segments that are more ready for development than others. Segment E in particular has been advanced a great deal by Harris County and is close to being ready to being moved to construction if funding can be made available for it.
“So the Commission basically asked that our chief financial officer, our executive director, and myself and staff start turning over every seat cushion to see if we can find any coins available, put out collection plates at all our churches, synagogues, and temples, and try to gather up any funding that we can to try to make that a reality.
“All jesting aside, I believe that there are potential opportunities to help advance that corridor in its entirety over the short term, but until we’ve done our due diligence in evaluating those opportunities and the value of the project in terms of its financial realities, it would be premature to speculate on any of those things.
“The Grand Parkway itself is shown as a toll project within [H-GAC’s] plans. It is a commission decision that has been made long ago that the Grand Parkway would be a toll road and a toll project. In fact, in Chambers county a portion of the Grand Parkway is already constructed and open to traffic and we are implementing the tolling elements on it as we speak.
“Our colleagues and partners in transportation in Fort Bend county have recently signed contracts with some engineering firms to develop the overpasses on what is referred to as segment D, the portion in Fort Bend County south of Interstate 10 and north of US 59 and those will be tolled as well.
“The Commission’s commitment in trying to advance the project would be to try to find funding to help advance the design work and start any construction that’s doable in the near term and then to put together a financial package with the intent of delivering all of the Grand Parkway over time through the toll revenues that will be generated from it and in fact the department and all of the counties represented here worked very well together to come up with a market valuation agreement several months ago that embodied the intent that all of us together and all the counties combined would work to make sure that as projects were brought online and revenues were gained and debt was retired and operations and maintenance were covered that any such revenues would be shared in the system of the Grand Parkway to see its full completed design in construction and then once that’s been done any excess revenues would be available to the region by the counties to be used on other much needed transportation projects.”
The Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC) has stated that “There is almost no existing demand for this roadway,” and that Segment E would “subject thousands to worse traffic congestion.” CTC and others have long noted that the Parkway is not really a transportation project, saying “There’s only one reason to build Segment E: to encourage development.”
Barton himself acknowledged before the Commission in spring of 2009 that Segment E is “an opportunity to open up areas for development in the Greater Houston area.” http://www.houstontomorrow.org/livability/story/commissioners-approve-stimulus-projects/
UPDATE (1/31/2011 11:55pm): The Texas Transportation Commission, a five member board appointed by the Governor that the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission has recommended be eliminated to instead have a single Texas Transportation Commissioner, did approve the minute order (pdf) to accept primacy at a January 27th meeting (agenda - pdf), where only Mr. Barton, Harris County Judge and former Chairman of the Grand Parkway Association Ed Emmett, Grand Parkway Association President William F. “Billy” Burge III, and Grand Parkway Association Executive Director David Gornet spoke in favor of the project, all of them speaking back and forth with Texas Transportation Commissioner and former West Houston Association Board Member Ned Holmes to whom Mr. Burge presented a 1988 picture including Mr. Holmes and the rest of the board of the West Houston Association, a children’s book entitled “We had everything but money,” and a pair of boxer shorts with the words “The Legend” and “The Man” and arrows pointing in two directions, all of this presented from a John McCain for President 2008 campaign bag which Mr. Burge says he received from Sarah Palin for the occasion. Minutes of the meeting are not yet published on the Texas Transportation Commission website as of publication of this article, but video is available in windows streaming format. Mr. Burge also noted that Ned Holmes’ term on the Texas Transportation Commission would end February 1, 2011.
Amongst a discussion of Harris County’s proposed role in the project and the expectation that TXDOT would honor the Market Valuation Waiver agreement, Judge Emmett stated that “there is no question that the revenue generating segments of the Grand Parkway are in Harris County and that revenue then would have had to have been committed to the other segments, the same as we hope will occur when TXDOT takes it over.”
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