A ‘Not in My Backyard’ attitude has derailed plans for improvements to Hamblen Road in Forest Cove.
Stan Sarman, chairman of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority, announced at the February board meeting that the proposed improvements to Hamblen Road were “a dead issue.” After being invited to the Forest Cove Property Owners Association meeting last month to discuss the road construction, Sarman said about 150 residents were at the meeting to say they do not want the proposed improvements.
The Authority conducted a mobility study in 2015, hosting a community survey for input as to area commuters’ perspectives on what area transportation projects are needed. After the results were compiled and a list of 11 projects were identified as feasible and conducive to overall transportation efficiency, the Authority hired Walter P. Moore to proceed with three of them.
The firm determined that a left-turn lane heading east at Hamblen Road at Forest Cove Drive, along with additional improvements, would help alleviate the amount of traffic. Several months ago, Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle indicated he was considering partnering on the plans, suggesting a four-lane throughway with a center turning lane from Loop 494 to Forest Cove Drive.
Hamblen Road is currently a two-lane road with a four-way stop sign at the Hamblen-Forest Cove intersection. The road bears significant traffic, as it is a popular alternate to Kingwood Drive for commuters who live in adjacent Kingwood. But Forest Cove residents, worried that improvements would cause a bigger increase in “cut-through drivers,” asked the Authority not to proceed.
“We will not go forward,” Sarman said.
The Authority will proceed with the two other projects, one at W. Lake Houston Pkwy. (WLHP) at Kings Crossing Drive and a second at WLHP at Northpark Drive. Northbound drivers on WLHP will see a right-turn lane added to Kings Crossing Drive. Eastbound drivers on Northpark will have a dedicated right onto WLHP. Both are to begin this summer for a cost of $1.2 million.
The Authority has been working for months on a major project – a redesign of Northpark Drive and construction of an overpass from U.S. Hwy. 59 east into Kingwood. After hiring consultants to advise the group on financing, engineering, environmental impact, safety and implications of the project, Sarman announced that the project is essentially on hold until the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) begins accepting new proposals. The H-GAC is the region-wide voluntary association of local governments in the 13-county Gulf Coast Planning Region of Texas. The organization works with local government officials to solve problems across the area, including transportation issues.
“The current word is the next call will be in Fall 2017,” said Authority Manager Ralph de Leon. If the Northpark project is accepted by H-GAC, it will be Fall 2018 to confirm the short list of projects, then a year to finalize the program and plans for funding, and 2020 before the construction begins, Sarman added.
The Authority has asked its consultants not to attend board meetings in the interim, so as not to pay for their attendance while the project plans are in limbo.
The Authority has also been working with city officials to finalize a proposed annexation map of Kingwood. There are areas to be annexed into Authority boundaries, including park land in Kingwood. The specifics have been amended several times, but Sarman said the objective is to present the final version to the Houston City Council during the second quarter of 2017. The Authority is asking the council to extend the life of the Authority (currently 2027). Sarman explained that the extension is critical to the financing of the Northpark project, as the Authority will need 20 and/or 30-year bonds in order to fund the project.
Tim Austin, attorney for the Authority, explained the revised Municipal Service Costs Agreement between the Authority and the City of Houston. The revision basically states that the Authority will not receive any rebates on unspent funds relating to public service. Then-Houston City Council member Mike Sullivan negotiated a unique provision in the agreement that ensured any money not spent on local “municipal public safety services” would be refunded to the Authority. The new agreement eliminates that provision. The Authority, Austin said, is “being told to approve this.” They voted unanimously to do so.
The Authority ended December with $3,732,029 and processed disbursements of $1,306,644, the majority of which went to developer reimbursements. The ending balance on Jan. 31 was $2,2426,831.
The Authority will next meet on March 9.