Officials in Kemah and Seabrook are ringing in the New Year by preparing for an impending $210 million construction project to expand state Highway 146.
“It’s going to be a hard five years, but ultimately, at the end of this, we’ll have better mobility and it will open opportunities for redevelopment,” Seabrook City Manager Gayle Cook said. “This will be better for sales taxes, long-term.”
Starting sometime this spring, crews guided by the Texas Department of Transportation will begin work on a project to expand state Highway 146 between Red Bluff Road in Seabrook on through Kemah, widening it from a six-lane to a 12-lane freeway.
Construction should begin sometime in February or March, Cook said.
Crews also will construct a 12,600-foot expressway bridge west of and parallel to the existing bridge over Clear Lake Channel, leaving the existing bridge as a frontage road for motorists, officials said.
The existing bridge is the northern gateway to Kemah, which is Galveston County’s second-most popular tourist destination with some 4 million annual visitors.
The project will continue for about five years, Cook said.
While piles of Jersey barriers near the north side of Seabrook give the project a sense of drawing near, residents and businesses have long known about the massive undertaking, and city officials have been planning for it, they said.
Just fewer than 50 businesses in Seabrook have either been partially or completely affected by the construction project, Cook said.
Popular restaurant Tookie’s Burgers, for instance, moved from its Seabrook location to 406 Texas Ave. in Kemah, in the building vacated by Ichibon Japanese Seafood.
As a result of those changes, in addition to the coming years of construction, Seabrook city officials have had to plan knowing they might have less tax revenue, Cook said.
“The initial estimate was that we’d have to cut about $300,000 from our sales tax projections,” Cook said.
Seabrook has been budgeting for fewer sales tax revenues in recent years — given that the project has been pushed back several times — which has meant the city has excess funds to cope with hard times, Cook said.
Still, for a city that usually budgets about $1.7 million in sales tax revenues, the five years under construction could be lean, Cook said.
And other businesses could still leave town, Cook said.
Construction on the bridge, which is the first part of the project, could temporarily close Kemah’s public boat ramp, said Nick Haby, director of community services with the city.
But Kemah, like Seabrook, is meeting monthly with Texas Department of Transportation officials and will work to update residents as the project proceeds, Mayor Carl Joiner said.
“We will work hard to keep the financial impact on our city to a minimum, knowing that when it is done, the traffic in Kemah will improve, which has been desperately needed for a long time,” Joiner said.
The project is all part of the Texas Department of Transportation’s ongoing expansion of the Highway 146 corridor through southeastern Harris County to Galveston Island and points in between.
The state will let another project to widen the highway between FM 518 and FM 517 in the fall of 2021, said Danny Perez, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. That project will include constructing a divided three-lane roadway with overpasses at FM 518 and state Highway 96, Perez said.
Officials estimate that project will cost about $85 million, Perez said.