With the days ticking down until the last public meeting before state transportation officials vote on the 2020 funding list, county officials are mobilizing support for a billion-dollar project to complete the Grand Parkway.
Local leaders argue the long-envisioned project is critical because it 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.
But as of late Monday, local leaders still weren’t sure who exactly planned to attend the meeting in Austin.
“If these Grand Parkway segments are removed from this 10-year plan that will guide the Texas Department of Transportation’s priorities in the future, the project may never be completed and the resulting impacts on Galveston County would be immense,” County Judge Mark Henry wrote in a letter Monday, urging residents to call transportation officials or attend the meeting in person.
The state’s transportation commission earlier this month unveiled a plan to remove the unfinished parts of the Grand Parkway, a total of more than $1.3 billion, from the 2020 Unified Transportation Program. While state leaders have been mum about the rationale behind the move, only saying the public still has the opportunity to comment before an Aug. 29 vote, many locally have said the decision is because of a crackdown on toll roads.
The five-member Texas Transportation Commission, along with an executive director, govern the Texas Department of Transportation. Commission members serve six-year terms and are appointed by the governor, officials said.
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.
But facing the possibility of the project’s removal, local leaders as of Monday afternoon were still trying to get a head count of who might go to Austin on Aug. 6 in support of keeping the project on the list.
“We’re doing everything we can do and we’ve already been up there to speak to the commission,” League City Mayor Pat Hallisey said. “I don’t think their chairman had any idea how far along we are with the project and environmental assessment. I’m sure they are going back and looking at the project, and I’m sure that message is being delivered.”
While League City officials planned to be there, other entities were less committal as of late Monday.
Friendswood city officials, for instance, hadn’t yet decided whether they would send a group to Austin on Aug. 6, but are considering a resolution requesting the project not be removed, said Jeff Newpher, spokesman for the city.
And representatives for the League City Regional Chamber of Commerce did not know by deadline Monday whether the organization would send people to Austin or not.
But Jenny Senter, president of the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce, told The Daily News she had sent out information about the meeting and heard back from several people saying they would attend.
“It’s important for us as Galveston County residents to show this is important to us,” she said. “We need the evacuation route, not to mention the transportation and development that would come with the project.”
Senter was hopeful the turnout would be similar to the annual Galveston County Day in the Texas Legislature, where 300 or so people from Galveston County flock to the Capitol to speak with representatives and their staffs.
Though the Grand Parkway would not directly touch Galveston itself, Mayor Jim Yarbrough Monday committed to having city representatives present Aug. 6, he said.
“We think the Grand Parkway is good, and the other segments that are open have obviously been successful,” he said. “They are well-traveled and generate toll money for the system.”
The project would improve transportation and evacuation while also giving businesses more options bringing goods and services out of the Port of Galveston, among other benefits, Yarbrough said.
The commission has a public hearing at 10 a.m. Aug. 6 in Austin before eventually taking action on the 2020 edition, officials said.