A hearing is still to be held, and vote yet to be taken, but one state senator reports funding for the Grand Parkway, which local leaders argue is vital to this area, will not be removed from a list of state projects.
“I am confident, based on conversations that I have had, that the issue is being taken care of,” state Sen. Larry Taylor said Thursday in a written statement. “They have received an overwhelming amount of support for the project that has been in the planning stages for many years, and now understand that it was not meant to be subject to the recent limitation on future toll roads.”
While Taylor was confident after talks with the Texas Transportation Commission that the project wouldn’t be removed, officials with the Texas Department of Transportation declined to confirm or deny Taylor’s statement.
Transportation officials declined to comment Thursday, beyond confirming the department still was accepting public comment on the plan, would hold a hearing next week as planned and the commission would vote in late August.
Despite the apparent good news, members of several local groups said they still planned to make the trip Tuesday to Austin to keep pressure on state leaders about the project, which would cost more than $1.3 billion.
Local leaders greeted the news that state transportation officials were considering a plan to remove the unfinished parts of the Grand Parkway from the 2020 Unified Transportation Program with unified outcry.
The long-envisioned project would spur development along the northern reaches of Galveston County, especially in the fast-growing western part of League City, enhance the region’s storm evacuation options and provide a much-needed east to west transportation option in an area where most highways run from the north to the south, they argue.
“We felt all along that it was not going to be pulled from the list,” said Bob Mitchell, the executive director of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, a nonprofit organization meant to advocate for business interests in the area. “We were all a little surprised when the commission decided to put it up for consideration to be pulled.”
The Grand Parkway, or state Highway 99, is an unfinished loop around the greater Houston area under construction since 1994. Segment B of the project calls for a highway stretching from Interstate 45 at state Highway 646 to state Highway 35 in Alvin, officials said.
State leaders have been mostly evasive about what led them to consider pulling the project, but many have guessed the root of the problem stems from a growing opposition to toll roads. The Grand Parkway would be a toll road.
Texas voters in 2014 and 2015 overwhelmingly agreed to provide the Texas Department of Transportation with billions of dollars in new revenue from various streams. The ballot language, however, said the money could not be used for toll roads or toll lanes.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in November 2017 spoke out against toll roads in a letter to J. Bruce Bugg Jr., the chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, a five-member board that governs the Texas Department of Transportation.
But that should have never harmed the Grand Parkway project, because it’s been in the works for many years and resident concern about toll roads is mostly in northern Texas, Mitchell said.
“We were grandfathered, and had been on the list to be funded for many, many years,” he said.
State leaders weren’t expecting such a push and uproar about the possibility of the Grand Parkway’s exclusion, he said.
“It’s full steam ahead,” Mitchell said. “We aren’t backing off now, we want to keep the pressure on them.”
Representatives from League City and other area communities and groups are still planning to make the trip to Austin, said Sarah Greer Osborne, spokeswoman for the city.