Residents and business owners converged at the New Caney High School Ninth Grade Campus last Tuesday for the second of two Public Scoping meetings concerning the Grand Parkway, officially known as State Highway 99. Representatives from The Grand Parkway Association, The Texas Department of Transportation and a consultant team were there to answer questions posed by attendees. Segments H and I-1 of the Grand Parkway will connect U.S. Highway 59 North to Interstate Highway 10 East, between FM 2100 and State Highway 146 in Montgomery, Harris, Liberty and Chambers counties, a distance of about 36 miles. The Parkway is planned to be the third, and largest, loop around the city of Houston. Loop 610 and Beltway 8 are the others. 182 miles in total, the highway is cited to be necessary due to population growth, high crash rates and inadequate evacuation routes, among other things, according to information provided at the meeting. The plans for the project involve numerous phases of study and input, and the meeting was a chance for those with questions and concerns to look at the information on display and ask questions. One resident asked David Gornet, executive director of The Grand Parkway Association, if part of the Parkway's purpose would be to divert more trucks with trailers off of the highways and interstates. Gornet said that that might happen, but the truckers also might not want to pay the toll. The new mega-loop will come with a mega-price of about $25 million per mile ($4.5 billion for 182 miles), according to Gornet, which includes design, testing, inspection and construction, etc., and considering the projected cost of construction and materials at the time it will be built. One portion of the Parkway is already built and in use. Segment D (U.S. 59 S to I-10 W), one of 11 segments, is now open to commuters. Gornet said that the entire Parkway will be a tollway, but said that the amount and method of tolling has not yet been determined. Residents of East Montgomery County and many others have voiced concerns about the highway's close proximity to Lake Houston State Park. Segment G, from I-45 N to U.S. 59 N, ends at 59 right at the park. Gornet said that although some of the initial proposals show the Parkway going through the park, that would be very unlikely given the input they have received so far. “We're not gonna go through the park,” he said. Other obstacles along the way are wetlands, protected wildlife areas, homes and businesses. “We want to stay out of any significant flood plain,” said Gornet. “We're gonna end up buying some houses and businesses, going through some wetlands and filling some.” The new loop will cross FM 1960 somewhere between Huffman and Dayton. Two public hearings are also scheduled to gain more community input, one in 2008 and another in 2009. Gornet said that construction would begin no sooner than 2012. Those at the meeting were asked to sign in, given hand-outs and asked to submit comments on forms provided. Written responses to collective comments received during the meeting will be available on the Web at beginning July 9. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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