Project will save millions in accident costs

 

Drivers in Kingwood will see a significant drop in commute times after a proposed improvement to Northpark is completed, Jim Webb told the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (also known as TIRZ 10) board Sept. 29. Webb, a consultant to the authority and owner of The Goodman Corporation, performed an analysis of available traffic information and presented a report to the board.

The report was created to support documentation for TxDOT funding toward the Northpark Drive Mobility Improvement Project, a project being led by the Authority.

One minute per trip will be saved, or an average of 14.5 hours per year, for the average Northpark driver. 

 Northpark, Webb said, was designed to handle 27,200 trips per day. Currently, 40,000 are being made, an obvious strain on the corridor. By 2030, with no traffic modifications, Northpark would see 49,000 trips.

The Authority is on track with a $55 million project that will expand Northpark, most significantly from U.S. 59 to Woodland Hills Drive, with a planned overpass carrying cars over the existing railroad tracks. The road will be expanded to six lanes as well. 

Webb said the project will affect Kingwood Drive commuters too, by more drivers taking Northpark. Kingwood Drive commuters will save 3.5 hours per year.  Webb provided an explanatory graphic that highlights his research.

Daily vehicle hours traveled (VHT) savings are projected to be 284.3 in 2020 and 191.6 in 2030 for Northpark Drive. Kingwood Drive would see dramatic savings of 267.9 VHT in 2020 and 272.2 in 2030. 

The figures include the anticipated significant reduction of travel times, factoring out waiting for trains to pass. Webb explained that this is a difficult metric to create, since Union Pacific records don’t translate into the formula easily. Webb said that the trip time will definitely decrease after waiting for trains to pass is factored in, a task he is continuing to determine. 

The total value of time saved to Kingwood-area commuters is $79 million.

"This data shows that the Northpark Drive Mobility Improvement Project will be a game-changer with regard to congestion for those residing in the Kingwood area," said Stan Sarman, chairman of the Authority. "The 'built scenario' also supports research in the Kingwood Area Mobility Study about both congestion and vehicular crashes. It's a huge quality-of-life issue."

Safety would also improve on both roads. The improvements will reduce crashes by 15 percent and the value of that reduction is estimated at $15 million. Crash data records over a five-year period from  2011-2015 show 330 crashes, with 45 in 2011 and 71 in 2012. Crash rates are determined by figuring the number of crashes per 100 million  vehicle miles traveled (VMT) over traffic volumes, according to Edminster, Henshaw, Russ and Associates, the engineering firm hired to manage the project.

The crash rate for Northpark Drive is 211.2 crashes per 100 million miles, significantly higher (68.9 percent) than the statewide average of 125.01 per 100 million. In May 2015, Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said, the Kingwood Area Mobility Study indicated that crash rates for major corridors in the Kingwood area are much higher than the statewide average rate.

According to the TxDOT Highway Safety Improvement Plan Work Code, the addition of one travel lane in each direction can reduce 28 percent of crashes. 

Henshaw Russ also said the addition of the overpass at Loop 494 at Northpark will reduce the number of crashes at several conflict points on Northpark, including driveways to commercial businesses.

"The crash data supports the need for the Northpark Drive Improvement Project, which will greatly reduce the number of vehicle crashes within the expansion boundaries, including at State Highway 494 near the Union Pacific Railroad," said Martin. "Kingwood area drivers will be safer with the proposed improvements to Northpark Drive, and the monetized safety benefits are substantial."

 

Bryan Brown, of engineering firm Walter P. Moore and Associates, discussed smaller mobility projects that are scheduled to begin in the near future. Brown said “everything is on track” with improvements at West Lake Houston Parkway (WLHP) at Kings Crossing, on Hamblen Road as well as at WLHP and Northpark.

Brown's firm did additional assessment of the last intersection and, in conjunction with TxDOT and the City of Houston, identified several improvements not in the original plans. A dedicated right hand turn lane from Northpark south onto WLHP will improve mobility as well as extending the left turn lane capacity for cars traveling north on WLHP turning left onto Northpark. Also, The Authority approved additional funding of $29,500 to provide the scope of services for these additions (the addition of a right turn lane to the southbound approach of WLHP, extension of existing dual left turn lanes on the northbound approach of WLHP and modification to the medians of the eastbound approach and eastbound departure of Northpark Drive to accommodate the shifting of an existing left turn lane and two existing through lanes and a proposed right turn lane.)

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle has entered the  Northpark Drive Mobility Improvement Project. Authority members met with Cagle recently and agreed to work cooperatively on overall mobility improvements in Kingwood. Cagle has requested that a project on Hamblen Road, one of three roads identified by residents as needing attention in the Kingwood Mobility Survey taken by the Authority last year, be modified from a proposed widening of three lanes to four. Engineers hired by the Authority had suggested a middle turn lane be added from Loop 494 to Hickory Lane. Lindsay Trahan, with Cagle's office, said they propose four lanes instead, with two lanes running each direction (east-west.) Cagle also would like road improvements in the entire Kingwood area to take Precinct 4's trail system for hiking and biking into account. Trahan also mentioned the possibility of connecting Hamblen to McClellan Road.

Sawyer Blackburn, of Friendswood Development Company, announced that the new Royal Brook subdivision has sold 51 homes to date. The pedestrian tunnel on West Lake Houston Parkway, north of Northpark Drive, should be completed by November.

The Authority approved a financial audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. The Authority has a beginning balance in August of $6,044,671 and dispersed $1,899,073; the largest payment went to Friendswood Development Company as a developer reimbursement. The August 31 balance is $4,146,787.

Allen Brown, a resident, spoke to the Authority, admonishing them that their purpose should be to spend tax dollars on Kingwood's parks, libraries, landscaping, recreational facilities and much more rather than “giving money to billion dollar development companies.” Brown said that “giving $15 million to Friendswood Development Company was “wrong and ridiculous.” Brown went on to say the only project completed recently was the new light on Northpark at Woodridge Parkway, which, he said, was done as a favor to Father Borski (priest of the nearby St. Martha Catholic Church) and to list various projects completed during the term of former councilmember, Mike Sullivan, prompting Houston City Councilmember Dave Martin, who was listening via a staff member's cell phone, to angrily insist that the Authority was doing an excellent job and that he would welcome the opportunity to speak with Brown in person about his concerns.

The Authority meets next Oct. 13 at 8 a.m. at the Kingwood Community Center.

 

 

Edminster, Henshaw and Russ provided the following information:

 

The crash rate for Northpark Drive in the study area is 211.2 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which is significantly higher (68.9 percent) than the statewide average rate of 125.01 crashes per 100 million VMT for a four-lane facility.

The study reports the following proposed Northpark Drive improvements would result in significant benefits.

 1. The addition of one through lane each way can reduce by 28 percent the number of crashes that share similar vehicle movement and manner of collision attributes (side-by-side, rear-end).

 2. The addition of an overpass and grade separation at State Highway 494 and Northpark Drive will reduce the number of crashes at conflict points along Northpark Drive, including numerous commercial driveways.

 3. Financial benefits can be factored in for the reduction in the number of motor vehicle crashes. Using TxDOT metrics that establish the monetized value of crash types (based on severity) and the estimated reduction in crashes based on the proposed improvements, it is estimated that the 20-year safety benefit of the proposed improvement would be nearly $15 million in 2016 dollars.

Congestion Information

Using baseline congestion data from H-GAC with existing conditions for a "no build scenario," the study demonstrates that Northpark Drive is currently operating over capacity with nearly 40,000 trips per day. The Volume to Capacity (V/C) ratio was 1.47 in 2015, rising to 1.80 in 2030 with a "no-build scenario."

 

Based on the results of the H-GAC Travel Demand Model, the Northpark Drive Mobility Improvement Project will significantly reduce congestion and travel times and result in a substantial economic benefit.

 1. The volume to capacity (V/C) ratios along Northpark Drive are reduced from 1.47 to 0.84 in 2020 and 1.75 to 0.89 in 2030, which are significant.

 2. Daily VHT savings are projected to be 284.3 in 2020 and 191.6 in 2030 for Northpark Drive. Kingwood Drive would also see dramatic savings of 267.9 VHT in 2020 and 272.2 in 2030.

 3. The peak-hour travel time reduction data shows that the "built scenario" would reduce travel times in excess of one minute per trip along Northpark Drive during both the morning and afternoon peak periods. If an individual utilized Northpark Drive twice a day in peak hours, annual travel time would be reduced by approximately 14.5 hours per year in 2020 and 14 hours per year in 2030. Travel times will also be reduced for Kingwood Drive (3.6 hours in 2020 and 4.0 hours in 2030).

 4. Travel time savings can be monetized using an H-GAC metric that the average value of travel time in the region is $16.10 per hour. When projected from 2020 to 2040, the monetized value for Northpark Drive is nearly $39.7 million in 2016 dollars, and the monetized value for Kingwood Drive is nearly $35.3 million. Total benefits for Northpark Drive, Kingwood Drive and Ford Road are $78.9 million in 2016 dollars.

In May 2015, the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority, in conjunction with the City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department, commissioned the Kingwood Area Mobility Study to analyze the area's transportation needs and deficiencies and assess potential solutions. Based on data analysis, future traffic projections, and public input, a list of recommended improvements was created, which included the expansion of Northpark Drive.

 

 

Cynthia Calvert
Author: Cynthia CalvertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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A trained journalist with a masters degree from Lamar University, a masters from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as extensive coursework toward a masters of science in psychology from the University of New Orleans, Calvert founded the Tribune Newspapers in 2007. Her experiences as an investigative, award winning reporter (She won Journalist of the Year from the Houston Press Club among many other awards for reporting and writing), professor and chair of the journalism department for Lone Star College-Kingwood and vice president of editorial for a large group of community weeklies provides her with a triple dose of bankable skills that cover every aspect of the journalism field. Solid reporting. Careful interviews. Respect and curiosity for people and places.

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