The portion of the newly tolled Grand Parkway between U.S. 59 and US 90A (and a little further north, to FM 1464) quietly opened to traffic last Thursday. Segment D of the third or fourth ring road around Houston (depending whether you count the Hwy. 6 and FM 1960 combo), which extends about 18 miles from the Southwest Fwy. to I-10, has been open since 1994 — but mostly as a sleepy divided double-lane highway with a super-wide grassy median. The new tollway redo is being opened in spurts. The Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority, which controls this portion of Segment D, expects to have the complete stretch of tollway open between the Southwest Fwy. and the Westpark Tollway open by the end of April. When it opens, 7 automated toll booths will line that stretch.
Photo: Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority
59 to 90A and Growing
From the self-described “guy with a quadcopter” behind Skyhawk Videos, here’s new aerial footage from high above the brand-spanking-new intersection of I-10 and Houston’s latest orbiting ringroad, the Grand Parkway. The view is primarily to the southeast, with a few tilts and glances in either direction; the new section of State Hwy. 99, aka the Grand Pkwy.’s Segment E, begins in the upper right of the initial image and extends to the lower left, across the Katy Prairie to the outlet mall in Cypress, running over an ancient burial ground in the process. The highway is carrying the last of its free traffic; tolls kicked in on Friday, about a month and a half after the segment opened and just a few days after Skyhawk’s drone shot.
In the lower right of the image is the new 151,600-sq.-ft. Katy Costco and gas station, scheduled to open to the public this Thursday. Its 14-acre site is the focus of its own separate video as well, filmed on January 25th:
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Grand Parkway, Costco, Cars!
WHERE THE ACTION IS, IN AND AROUND HOUSTON From Dug Begley’s report on next weekend’s dual openings of the North Line light-rail extension and the Hempstead-to-Katy Segment E of the Grand Parkway: “[Judge] Emmett frequently notes that about 500,000 people live within Loop 610, about 1.5 million live between Loop 610 and the Sam Houston Tollway and about 2 million live outside the tollway within Harris County. ‘We’re seeing a lot of people moving inside the Loop,’ Emmett said. ‘That growth is going on. But for every person moving in, about four people are locating outside the beltway. Nothing is going to change that growth pattern.” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Map: Grand Parkway Association
FEEDING NEW APARTMENTS TO THE GRAND PKWY. FEEDER Austin developers Oden Hughes say that they have been eager to build in Houston, but the company’s first project here has come only as far east as Katy: A 354-unit apartment complex is going up a few miles east of Katy Mills Mall on 14 acres at the southwest corner of Kingsland Blvd. and the southbound Grand Pkwy. feeder. The Rancher reports that rent here at the so-called Parkside Grand Parkway will range between $850 and $1,655 a month for the complex planned to include 2 pools, a fitness center, and “an air-conditioned dog washing station.” [The Rancher] Rendering: Oden Hughes
Next month, reports Real Estate Bisnow’s Catie Dixon, construction’s supposed to start on 3 more segments of the Grand Parkway: That’s why F1, F2, and G on the map here are colored in that cautionary yellow. And where G ends? Not coincidentally, adds Dixon, at that future intersection with U.S. 59, planned to be completed by 2015, the 1400-acre master-planned Valley Ranch is getting ready to sprawl out.
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Last month, Cite magazine editor Raj Mankad hiked 8 miles through the Katy Prairie to see the prehistoric human remains found during the construction of Grand Parkway’s Segment E for himself. He brought back a few photos and an essayist’s-eye-view of the archaeological saga:
It appeared as if TxDOT had aimed the 15-mile-long highway segment directly at the burial ground. The highway was suspended, figuratively and physically, like an unintentional monument honoring the burial grounds, like Texas was trying to tell anyone in an airplane or spaceship to LOOK HERE. . . . What I saw were several pieces of plywood, propped up on five-gallon paint buckets, covering what I presume to be the human remains and the tools, buffalo teeth, and other objects found with them. The plywood was weighted down with rocks. . . . To my amateur eyes, the excavation looked makeshift and tenuous, not systematic or professional.
Photos: Brett Sillers
COMMENT OF THE DAY: ALSO, PAVING OVER THEIR ANCESTORS “Yes we do know what people were doing 10,000 years ago. Basically it’s the same thing we are doing today. Making and raising children, trying to feed our family, and working to have safety, shelter, and clothing.” [Bill, commenting on Grand Parkway Will Pile on the Dead]
GRAND PARKWAY WILL PILE ON THE DEAD An agreement between TxDOT, the Harris County Historical Commission, and 5 Native American tribes over what to do with the prehistoric human remains unearthed in the prairie highway’s path will allow construction of the Grand Parkway Segment E to continue — with only a bump in the road: “Under the agreement, TxDOT will fill the excavated areas and cover them with rip rap, creating a permanent burial site near where the road would cross Cypress Creek, about three miles south of U.S. 290.” The reburial might confuse future anthropologists, though: “[UH professor of anthropology Kenneth] Brown expressed frustration over TxDOT’s handling of the site, saying crews saved some artifacts but ruined the area for richer study. The agency’s crews scraped and sifted mechanically instead of digging by hand. ‘When you scrape, you will find things, but you won’t be able to see how they were associated,’ Brown said. ‘That is a shame because we do not know what people were doing 10,000 to 14,000 years ago, and we won’t know now.’” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of gravesite: abc13
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE RING ROAD NAME INFLATION CHALLENGE “Only problem is that with a huge name like Grand Parkway, what will we call the next, even bigger loop?” [Frank, commenting on Three More Links in the Grand Parkway Are Now Ready To Roll]
THREE MORE LINKS IN THE GRAND PARKWAY ARE NOW READY TO ROLL Yesterday the Texas Transportation Commission rubber-stamped TxDOT’s selection of a developer for 3 additional segments of the Grand Parkway — if you count FM1960 and Hwy. 6, Houston’s fourth ring road. Segments F1, F2, and G of State Hwy. 99 will run from Hwy. 290 east to the newly minted I-69 (also known as U.S. 59). Along the way, the new stretch will rub elbows — conveniently — with the new ExxonMobil campus in the former pine forest west of the I-45 intersection and the start of the Hardy Toll Rd. Zachry-Odebrecht Parkway Builders will be in charge of the $1.04 billion project. Construction is expected to start next year, with the toll road opening in 2015. [TxDOT] Map: Tollroads News
OLD DEAD PEOPLE BLOCKING PROGRESS OF GRAND PARKWAY Texas’s department of transportation is requesting permission to remove 4 bone fragments found buried in the Katy Prairie — in the path of what will eventually be the largest-circumference ring road ever constructed around a U.S. city. The bones, believed to represent the remains of several people, are at least 2,000 years old, which would make them older than any human body parts previously discovered in the Harris County area. They were unearthed by construction workers. As a result, construction of a portion of Segment E of the Grand Parkway, which will connect I-10 to U.S. Hwy. 290 through acres of uninhabited grasslands, has been halted. TxDOT’s application asks for “expedited removal” of the remains so that work can continue. [abc13; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Deeya Maple
THE MAN WHO RESURRECTED THE GRAND PARKWAY As recently as the beginning of this year, 2 northwestern segments of the proposed fourth ring road around Houston were considered by many to be stalled projects — remnants, even, of an outdated dream to project sprawling, suburban-style development ever outward from the city. But by September, construction on the 15.2-mile Katy Prairie paving program known as Segment E of the Grand Parkway had magically begun; further north, Grand Parkway’s Segment F — the portion that would connect ExxonMobil’s proposed campus in Spring to western suburbs — now appears inevitable. How’d that happen? Reporter Angie Schmitt looks at the role of developer and TxDOT commissioner Ned Holmes in the startling turnaround, including the former banking executive’s remarkable ability to dig up a previously unnoticed $350 million deep in the books of the otherwise cash-starved state agency he oversees — in order to make the Grand Parkway happen. [StreetsBlog; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Rte. 99 ramp construction: Covering Katy
Tuesday morning, not far from the former grounds of Forbidden Gardens, its now-ransacked replica gravesite of Emperor Qin, and his army of one-third-scale terracotta soldiers at the stub-end of Hwy. 99 and Franz Rd., TxDOT and a contingent of public officials will gather to celebrate the groundbreaking of a notable project for Houston: the paving of a $350 million four-lane toll highway with “intermittent” development-ready access roads across an expanse of largely uninhabited prairie land that stretches between Katy and Cypress. When it’s complete, the 180-mile-long Grand Parkway will be Houston’s fourth ring road, cutting through 7 different counties. But none of the planned segments will forge so dramatic a path through undeveloped land as this particular north-south stretch, called Segment E.
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In what appears to be a last-ditch effort to block construction of Segment E, the straight-throught-the-Katy-Prairie section of the Grand Parkway scheduled to begin construction this month, the Sierra Club has filed a new suit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the DOT, the FHA, the Texas Transportation Commission, and several public officials. But the lawsuit also focuses attention on the health of the Addicks and Barker Dams on Buffalo Bayou, which control waterflow through west and Downtown Houston. According to a July 2010 document unearthed by the environmental group this past March through an information request, the Army Corps has rated the status of both dams as “urgent and compelling” since September 2009; that rating indicates the Corps considers them to be 2 of the 6 most dangerous dams in North America.
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FULL SPEED AHEAD ON THE GRAND PARKWAY, WITH EXXONMOBIL AT 12 O’CLOCK A 12.1-mile segment of Houston’s newest and largest ring road, connecting the new ExxonMobil campus to the Tomball Parkway — and eventually to Katy — should be open by 2015, says the executive director of the Grand Parkway Association. TxDOT should start acquiring rights of way along Segment F-2 between Hwy. 249 and I-45 later this year, and construction will likely begin within 2 years, David Gornet tells Nancy Sarnoff. [Houston Chronicle; more info]