Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved an agreement to build and maintain a segment of the Grand Parkway connecting the Katy Freeway and U.S. 290, but questions over what would happen if the county ultimately decided the project was not financially viable could delay work indefinitely.
The agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation clearly states that Harris County would be reimbursed for its investment in Segment E of the proposed "outer outer" loop around Houston if another entity agreed to develop the entire 185-mile project.
But the agreement does not describe what would happen if the county decided not to build the segment after spending money on the segment and no one ever agreed to build the whole project.
The agreement stipulates that Harris County will be responsible for funding right-of-way acquisition, engineering and design, utility work, environmental studies and mitigation, compliance with TAS and ADA, and any other aspect of the project not mentioned in attachment D. According to this agreement Harris County will be on the hook for the entire estimated project cost in excess of $500 million.
Before voting Cmr. Steve Radack pushed staff to clarify the County's financial obligations saying, "I don't want Harris County tax payers to be out one penny on this project." He asked what happens if the County moves forward on segment E but decides not to finish the project.
Attorney Bob Colley, who worked on the agreement for the County, explained that the County will only be reimbursed for segment E costs if TxDOT or another entity ultimately assumes responsibility for it and the entire Grand Parkway. If HCTRA develops segment E and no one takes it over, the County will be out the entire cost.
Commissioners also clarified the County's obligations stemming from this agreement. In conclusion, today's vote allows the County to pursue segment E, but does not obligate the County to begin spending money on it.
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About 10 representatives from environmental and neighborhood groups that oppose the project spoke against it during Tuesday's meeting, calling it a magnet for sprawl that will be too far north to have much of an impact on U.S. 290 traffic. They said the court should use the money to build commuter rail or toll lanes on the freeway instead.