GAMA seeks solutions to area traffic troubles
- Written by Patsy Oliver
The future of the expansion of FM 1960 does not look bright, but GAMA members are working to improve it. Members of the Greater Atascocita Mobility Association met Thursday and heard from representatives of the Houston-Galveston Area Council. GAMA hopes to gain some guidance from H-GAC on how to get their concerns heard with decision-makers at the Texas Department of Transportation. Pat Waskowiak, program manager at H-GAC, and Stephanie Lee, H-GAC community outreach planner, opened the meeting by saying that everyone needed to keep in mind that H-GAC makes plans, but does not do construction. “We don’t build, own, operate or construct ... our function is to plan,” said Waskowiak. She said that H-GAC was formed in the ‘70s due to a federal mandate to see that each community’s mobility needs, as well as the needs and requirements of the state and federal government, are met. She confirmed that H-GAC’s long-term assessment does state that 10 lanes are recommended to handle the flow of traffic on FM 1960 by 2025. But Waskowiak cautioned that the projection was merely that, and other options should be considered. “Well, I don’t know that you all would want a 10-lane highway through the middle of Atascocita,” she said, adding that such a highway would look similar to U.S. Highway 290. TxDOT’s current plans are to bring FM 1960 from four lanes to six, but even those plans have been delayed due to a lack of federal funding. Waskowiak stressed that TxDOT’s funds are very limited, federal dollars have been pulled from previously funded projects, and the rest of the eight-county area H-GAC covers is feeling the same traffic pressures as Atascocita. Waskowiak likened FM 1960 to the plight of those traveling State Highway 6, saying that neither of those roads were ever built to carry the kind of traffic with which they are, and will be, burdened. David Feille, GAMA president, said that with growth in Atascocita projected to balloon by 250 percent over the next 10 years, a bridge over West Lake Houston Parkway would be absolutely necessary to prevent gridlock. The overpass was included in TxDOT’s schematics, but the added $30 million in cost makes that part of the plan impossible unless other funding is found. And funding is not the only obstacle for the overpass. Waskowiak brought a list of projects on H-GAC’s 2008 TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) and the bridge over West Lake Houston was not on the list, even as a long-term project. Waskowiak said that for the bridge to be considered, it would have to be added to the plan because nothing that had not been approved by the Policy Council could move forward due to federal mandates. Waskowiak and Lee agreed to get more information from TxDOT concerning what the project on the TIP includes for FM 1960, and get back with GAMA members. Complicating the issue of TxDOT’s decrease in funding has been the increase in construction costs. Waskowiak said that the cost of highway construction had increased by 7 percent for each of the past five years, and cement had gone up 12 percent in each of those years. Waskowiak encouraged GAMA members to develop a plan of action, listing their top priorities and including what their benefits are, and how they would benefit the state. She added that continued work with politicians would also be helpful, and said that GAMA should look at additional funding from Harris County Precinct 4, as well as the private sector. It was pointed out that Atascocita’s situation is unique compared to others in the city because of the limited options available due to its proximity to Lake Houston. Waskowiak said that the group should focus on what makes the area unique, and keep communicating with all involved to move toward a favorable solution. Toward that end, GAMA co-vice president of governmental relations Lynn McDonald said that a workshop had been arranged for May 22 at the Humble Area Chamber office including representatives of H-GAC, TxDOT and Precinct 4. McDonald said that Sen. Tommy Williams sent invitations to the groups and has been instrumental in getting GAMA’s concerns heard.