Is the Toll Road Authority taking control of the Grand Parkway?

Spring residents have lost a battle in the fight over the Grand Parkway:

Despite pleas from a group of Spring residents who oppose the road, Commissioners Court gave the Harris County Toll Road Authority permission today to spend $5.6 million to plot out a 52-mile section of the Grand Parkway in north Houston.

The county has yet to commit to building the section of the Grand Parkway, a 182-mile super loop around Houston that has been planned for decades. The Texas Department of Transportation will make final decisions on expansion of the Grand Parkway, and the county would need TxDot's approval before it could build the section.

The Spring residents say one proposed route for the toll road would divide subdivisions in their town, cut across a high school baseball field and provide no relief to congestion on local roads.

"The more I know, the less I like," said Connie O'Donnell, a member of United to Save Our Spring. "I think it is and always has been a developer's dream of a highway."

Commissioner Jerry Eversole, whose Precinct 4 includes Spring and most of the other areas where the section would be built, said the road is needed to provide solutions to the area's current and future traffic needs.

"It still goes back to I think it's the right thing to do. It has nothing to do with selling homes or building shopping centers," Eversole said. "The solution will be to build the road, to take the consequences and, if it means my defeat, then it means my defeat."

I am suspicious of Eversole's assertion that the Grand Parkway has nothing to do with new developments. (I should also disclose, again, that I live in the area that would be impacted by this segment of the Grand Parkway, and I am opposed to the project. Also, this topic is being discussed more in our forum.) It would appear that this project has quite a lot to do with selling homes and building shopping centers. Otherwise, why would State Sen. Jon Lindsay, a big proponent of the parkway, have held a private meeting with developers to discuss Grand Parkway plans?

Recently there was a rumor that a toll road might be built through the Heights area. The outrage that immediately followed had Harris County Judge Robert Eckels running for media outlets to declare his opposition to that idea. It is interesting to note that Judge Eckels is in full support of the Grand Parkway project. Spring residents and business owners are not getting the same consideration from Judge Eckels that Heights residents received.

It's clear that if the Harris County Toll Road Authority takes control of the project, no more public input will have to be considered and no more environmental impact reports will be done. The HCTRA does not have to meet the same requirements as TxDOT.

UPDATE: The Chronicle has a new story posted with more details, including some information about State Sen. Jon Lindsay that demonstrates not just his support of the project, but his efforts to get the project completed:

County officials rejected state Sen. Jon Lindsay's offer to work for the county as a consultant who would try to persuade north Harris County developers to donate land for the project.

Lindsay, a Republican who represents much of the area where the segment would be built, has long supported the Grand Parkway.

He said he met last year with 14 developers who own land between Texas 249 and I-45. About 10 of the developers agreed to donate land to the county for the toll road, Lindsay said.

With that land, the toll road could have been built without traversing as many Spring residential areas as called for under TxDOT plans, he said.

Lindsay said he met with Eversole and other officials in the fall and tried to sell them on hiring him as a consultant.

He would have asked the county to pay him about $5,000 or $6,000 a month for his services, Lindsay said.

"I told them I was not going to do it gratis. It was too much work," he said.

County officials balked at the proposal, saying it could appear to be improper for the county to hire a state senator to lobby developers who were his business acquaintances or friends and who would benefit from the highway's construction, Lindsay said. "I did not understand where the conflict of interest was, just because I was a senator," he said.

Phew! He's something.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 01/25/05 07:02 PM | Print |

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