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Good news on the tollway front

The proposed toll road that would have cut through Oak Forest appears to be dead.

A proposed toll road that would slice through the Oak Forest subdivision in north Houston is no longer an immediate threat to residents, who opposed the project at a Tuesday town hall meeting at Scarborough High School.

Alan Clark, transportation planning director for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, announced that the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad will not relinquish right of way for the proposed 20-mile Northwest Corridor Toll Road to span from the Grand Parkway in Tomball to Loop 610.

Clark was there to present H-GAC’s Regional Transportation Plan for 2025 — which includes widening parts of T.C. Jester Boulevard, Pinemont and Antoine drives, and 43rd Street.

Clark was interrupted by residents who packed the school’s auditorium.

Residents interrupted Clark and forced him to abandon a video presentation on the overall plan. “What about our neighborhood?” a resident shouted.

“I’m here to help our community be a better place to live,” Clark said, prompting the audience to become more disruptive.

Taking over the microphone, Greg Ryden, president of the Oak Forest Homeowners Association, urged residents to be respectful and defended their cause to Clark.

Fearing plans for a toll road will resurface in the future, Ryden said residents of established neighborhoods “should not be penalized to address the needs of commuters who choose to live outside the city.”

In addition, widening thoroughfares such as 43rd Street and Antoine Drive from four lanes to six could reduce property values, put children who bike and walk to school at greater risk for accidents, and exacerbate air and noise pollution, he said.

“Are our neighborhoods worth preserving, or are we at the mercy of the infrastructure that serves them?” Ryden said.

That’s definitely good news, but Ryden’s question needs an answer. John, from whom I found this story, frames it thusly:

I think that in the end, if you choose to live in a remote part of the metro area, you should expect to condemned to hellish commutes, and if you don’t like that, you should push for mass transit. Wrecking someone else’s neighborhood should simply be off the table. It’s interesting to me that allowing unchecked development and road-building is usually a conservative position, when in fact it’s a kind of meddling welfare – we will save people from the results of their own choices by punishing those who made smarter choices. And yes, my bias is showing; if you work downtown, moving to the northeast corner of Harris County is just stupid, unless you are one of those few people who enjoys sitting in traffic jams.

Here’s the big scoop for people who claim they have to go out there to get an affordable house: it’s not Christmas and the government’s not Santa Claus. You do not have to go there to find an affordable house; there are tons of cheap houses in Houston, inside the loop. What’s unspoken is the other adjectives in that “affordable housing” phrase: “3000 square foot,” “brand new,” “not near too many people different colors than me,” and so on.

I’m not going to comment on the benefits of old vs new, 3000 square feet versus 1500, or any of that. We all make these choices. I like old houses; not everybody does. I don’t want a giant house; maybe somebody else does.

My point is that I am perfectly willing to live with the consequences of my choices. I want to live close to the center of the city, therefore, I will pay more per square foot. I want to have an actual neighborhood where people walk around and there are stores and businesses mixed in with residential development; therefore, there are many places in Houston with nice, affordable houses that I won’t look at.

For someone moving to a distant suburb to insist that they have to now have roads built for them is no different than me insisting that someone needs to build me a 2500 square foot brand new house in the Heights, and sell it to me for the same price as a 1200 square foot 60-year old bungalow. If I made that claim, I’d be laughed at. I don’t make that claim; I look at all the factors, decide what trade-offs make sense for me, and live with that. I’m only asking that those who want to live farther out do the same. If the commute is really a reasonable trade-off for space and newness, that’s fine. Just don’t come back and say, “hey, this house is exactly as far from downtown as it was on the map when I bought it!” and expect someone to plow down someone else’s house to make your life easier.

I agree with every word. Right now, I’d say that the road-hungry crowd has the upper hand in all this, since the essentially unfettered HCTRA and a couple of prominent local Congressmen are on their side, but the people on the wrong end of the eminent domain equation are getting better about fighting back. We’re starting to get some allies in unexpected places, as the good people of Spring have discovered that a suburban location is no protection from HCTRA’s predation. This is an issue that I hope comes up in the County Judge, County Commissioner, and as many State Rep races as possible next year, since I think it’s one that will reach across party lines. I mean, if your house gets condemned for a toll road, I can’t imagine it’s much consolation knowing that at least it was a Republican who pushed for the road to be built.

(This issue isn’t strictly partisan, of course – Debbie Riddle has filed a bill that may be of help here (I haven’t gotten a reply to my email asking about it, so I can’t say for sure), and Martha Wong has been asked to sponsor a bill that would rein the HCTRA in a bit. Note also Council Member Toni Lawrence’s words at the end of the article, and recall that at the Woodland Heights I-45 town hall, representatives from Michael Berry and Shelly Sekula Gibbs’ offices were there in support. For sure, though, Robert Eckels and Jerry Eversole have dirty hands here, and if anyone ought to be vulnerable to this kind of appeal, it should be the more pragmatic than partisan offices in the Couny Commissioners’ Court. If nothing else, I think a Democrat who campaigns in Spring on a message of making the HCTRA more responsive to neighborhood concerns would be listened to.)

Worried the idea of a tollway will emerge again, one resident asked how homeowners can protect their neighborhood in the future.

Clark said as long as the railroad is not a willing partner, residents can remain at ease.

That feels like a promise written in sand to me. I see that the Oak Forest folks have launched a webpage to agitate against the toll road and other RTP items. I’d say that they’ll still need it even after this victory. I sure wouldn’t be feeling at ease.

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  1. Anne says:

    “If nothing else, I think a Democrat who campaigns in Spring on a message of making the HCTRA more responsive to neighborhood concerns would be listened to.”

    Absolutely right. A Martian could come into Spring and campaign on HCTRA concerns and would probably win right now. Lindsay and Eversole haven’t made friends up here.

    On the argument about commutes, when we decided to buy a house way out here, we talked long and hard about the commute. We think it’s worth it, and we would never expect a road to be built through a sleepy little neighborhood somewhere to make commuting easier. The problem is, I know not everyone puts as much consideration into it as we did. Those are the folks who clamor for a shorter commute, never considering who gets stomped on in the process.

  2. 1. If you don’t like changes to your neighborhood, move. Nobody tells you where to live.
    2. Making nice for one neighborhood at the expense of all the other neighborhoods that would benefit from a better road system is foolishness.
    3. There is a lot more to transportation in this city than getting form the exurbs to downtown.
    4. There is no more effective or efficient form of public transportation than a road.

  3. Bruce P. says:

    Are binkley’s comments an April Fools joke? “If you don’t like changes to your neighborhood, move. Nobody tells you where to live.” Obviously tying in to schools and all the other issues of a neighborhood means nothing to someone with this POV. I’m sorry, but we will not sit idly by while someone payed with tax dollars spends more tax dollars to rape our neighborhood.
    There are win-win options. This type of idea needs to be considered:
    Win-win is the only option, not a short-sighted “we can get Federal Funds for this in the next 2-3yrs” option. Move the people around the town, don’t run over them.