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HuffPo on the Grand Parkway

The Huffington Post take a look at that great boondoggle in northwest Harris County, the Grand Parkway Segment E extension from I-10 to 290.

Texas faces a transportation funding gap of $315 billion over the next 20 years, according to the state’s transportation commission. Ten of its top 20 congested roads are in or around Houston.

Yet while the mitigation plans for congestion around several of those existing roads remain unfunded, the state is moving ahead with the construction of more than 180 miles of beltway called the Grand Parkway, segments of which will run right past the new North American headquarters of ExxonMobil. The total price tag for the project, which will require the use of eminent domain, is estimated at $5.2 billion.

Since the 1960s, planners in Houston have dreamed of building the Parkway, a massive third beltway in the suburbs and exurbs beyond the Sam Houston Tollway, which itself rings the 610 Loop near the city’s core. Coming up with the money for the road, however, has never been easy. For decades the grand plan has languished; so far only two out of its 11 segments have been built.

But in January the Texas Transportation Commission, appointed by Governor Rick Perry, decided to assume authority for several segments of the project.

One commissioner said the project was particularly important for the Texas Department of Transportation, commonly called TxDOT, because ExxonMobil was considering moving its North American headquarters to a brand new, 385-acre corporate campus north of the city near where the road will some day go. Suburban Harris County, which surrounds Houston and where the campus is located, had struggled to find a way to pay for its parts of the Parkway.

In January, ExxonMobil’s final decision about that campus had yet to be publicly revealed. Civic boosters seemed to suggest that without progress on the Grand Parkway, the company might leave the region.

“Exxon representatives have stated very clearly to me that TxDOT moving forward on the Grand Parkway is essential, and that if that did not happen, they would not select this site,” transportation commissioner and Houston real estate developer Ned Holmes said. He added that it was “kind of a deal-breaker” for the company.

All of this is familiar to us. Just as a reminder, this is going to cost more than the entire 2012 Metro Solutions plan, at a time when TxDOT is broke, and unlike the Metro project nobody ever got to vote on it. It’s not going to do a thing to improve mobility for the vast majority of Houstonians; if anything, it’s likely to contribute to congestion in the future as development moves into new places. It has the distinct whiff of a sweetheart deal to benefit ExxonMobil and a handful of developers. I have always wondered why the opposition to this has not spread much beyond the transportation policy wonks like the CTC and the anti-toll road crowd, but whatever the case, it’s too late now as ground has been broken on the Parkway extension. Like it or not, here it comes.

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  1. Andrea says:

    It is scary to think that we are spending all these funds on a plan that virtually nobody got to vote on. It is issues like this that make me think IBM’s “Smarter Cities” forum may be a worthwhile event for our city officials to attend.

  2. Ross says:

    Contrary to HuffPo’s belief, , the segment from I-10 to 290 has nothing to do with the ExxonMobil campus, which is located adjacent to I-45. I don’t think there’s a lot of opposition to the segment from 249 to 45, as it will provide a better East/West route than 1960, which is horrific.