The Kingwood Super Neighborhood Council spent most of its Feb. 20 meeting learning the details of the upcoming Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) project to upgrade Loop 494 along the west side of Kingwood. The project will enhance the roadway to make full use of the existing right of way and will include sidewalks in appropriate commercial areas on either side of the roadway. There will also be raised turf medians and designated left-turn lanes at the busiest intersections. The project includes Loop 494 from the Northpark Drive intersection south through the Kingwood Drive intersection and continues to the McClellan Bridge north of the Hamblen Road intersection. It is a two-year project slated to begin in phases in late March or early April.

Adam Galland, TxDOT’s Montgomery County area engineer and the Loop 494 project manager, provided copies of a detailed, 38-page engineering summary of the project to councilmembers and explained how it will progress.

“The project started a while ago, I’d say about the year 2007, when funding was not yet available. However, the funding became available recently and the project is moving forward,” said Galland. He explained that as a result in the gap in time from the initial planning in 2007, TxDOT has essentially gone door to door to the affected businesses to work with them and let them know the project is coming soon. He noted the project will result in using the entire width of the right of way which has not been used up to this point. He explained the reason is due to the need to expand the overall width of the road from what it is today.

“Essentially, it is two lanes in each direction with a divided median and sidewalks on one side,” Galland said and used project renderings contained in the 38 pages of plans to describe how the left-turn lanes will be built at appropriate intersections by narrowing or eliminating the median at those points. He noted that in some areas there will be sidewalks on both sides of the road where commercial business activity warrants them.

Galland pointed out that the project will take longer than it would if conditions were such that they could close down the intersection at Kingwood Drive and do it all at once. He said that the intersection and its approaches on both Loop 494 and Kingwood Drive will be raised 3 feet to make the whole intersection area level with the Union Pacific Railroad crossing. However, Kingwood Drive’s heavy traffic volume and limited detour options dictate that the intersection remains open during the entire project. “So we are going to be maintaining one lane in each direction and we are going to be placing asphalt and raising everything up. Our plan is to do this work on the weekends,” he said.

Galland explained that they will do the entire project in quadrants of work, one quadrant at a time, but not necessarily in a specific sequencing order. He said that “fast-track” concrete will be used to enable reopening the roadway to traffic within 24 hours at the intersection as various quadrants are completed. He noted the start of the intersection work is not yet scheduled, pending anticipated completion of the contract agreement between TxDOT and the Union Pacific Railroad. In the meantime, other quadrants of the project will begin. Galland does not expect the Kingwood Drive intersection work to begin until later in the year, preferably during the summer months when peak commuter traffic is less than at other times.

Stan Sarman, president of the Super Neighborhood Council, led a discussion about the importance of receiving timely advance communication about when the various elements of the project were going to start happening. He emphasized the importance for the council representatives to keep their own respective organizations and residents fully updated. He pointed out that there was a chance the work on Loop 494 would still be going on when the Northpark Drive Improvement Project gets underway in 2020 and 2021 and emphasized the importance of coordination essential to make it all happen successfully with a minimum of inconvenience to residents.

Following the presentation, George Maldonado spoke on behalf of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office to describe the Homeowners Assistance Program for homeowners flooded out by Hurricane Harvey. He said, “As you probably already know, the federal government dedicated $400 million to the Homeowners Assistance Program for homeowners to get assistance for Hurricane Harvey flooding.” He explained that the overall assistance program includes five major assistance options available depending on the situation of the homeowners who are seeking assistance.

1. The Reimbursement Program is for homeowners who have completed repairs and may be eligible for reimbursement of some of the expenses. Any work considered for reimbursement must have been completed prior to the date of a submitted application.

2. The City-Managed Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program is where the City of Houston will manage and complete the construction process on behalf of the resident.

3. The Homeowner-Managed Rehabilitation Program is only available if the homeowner has started construction on the home and is under contract at the time of application for assistance.

4. The Acquisition Program is available if the home was substantially damaged. The homeowner may be eligible to have the property purchased by the city. Maldonado noted that in these situations there may be additional assistance available to purchase a new home.

5. The Interim Mortgage Assistance Program is one that may enable those who are making a mortgage payment on their storm-damaged home while making rental payments for temporary housing at the same time. Up to 20 months of assistance may be available.

Maldonado explained that to be eligible for any of these programs one must complete a “Harvey Recovery Survey” to determine which of these programs may be applicable to them. Full information is available online at recovery.houstontx.gov. The phone number to call for further information is 832-393-0550.

In other business the council re-elected its three current officers for the coming year. They are: Sarman, president; Dee Price, vice president; and Lynn Forster, secretary.

The next Kingwood Area Super Neighborhood Council Meeting will be March 20 at the Kingwood Community Center, 4102 Rustic Woods Drive.

Bruce Olson
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I have been married since 1970 to Kerry, my best friend and a great Australian woman. I served and survived Vietnam in the U.S. Air Force. I fought forest fires in the summer while in college, where I earned a B.A. in economics from Oklahoma State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Texas. I retired from Continental Airlines. I have a son and two granddaughters in Kingwood, and a daughter and two grandsons on a farm near Mazabuka, Zambia. I am now enjoying life as a grandfather, Tribune correspondent and Humble ISD guest teacher when not traveling to Zambia or Australia.