State Sen. Larry Taylor had some good news Thursday about the status of funding for segments of the Grand Parkway, which have been planned for this region for decades, but local advocates intending to comment or travel to Austin next week for a hearing shouldn’t stand down.
Taylor said he was confident after talks with the Texas Transportation Commission the project wouldn’t be removed from the state’s Unified Transportation Program for 2020, a huge document spelling out in deep detail what the Texas Department of Transportation plans to accomplish during the year.
“I am confident, based on conversations that I have had, that the issue is being taken care of,” Taylor said.
“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.”
The commission, which governs the transportation department, in July issued a draft of its funding plan, along with a recommendation to cut four toll-road projects, including Segments B, C and D of the Grand Parkway, also called state Highway 99.
Those parts would run from state Highway 146 somewhere around Bacliff, through Galveston, Brazoria and Fort Bend counties to connect with parts of the big loop around Houston that already have been built.
Local officials hypothesized state leaders had pressured the transportation commission to shelve the project because it would have been a toll road, over which there has been growing backlash from people all over Texas annoyed about paying to drive on roads they thought they already had paid for through various taxes.
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.
Taylor and other local leaders argued any ban on toll-road funding was meant to apply in the future and not to those already planned for decades, which state Highway 99 had been.
Taylor’s message Thursday was that the commission had gotten that message and Grand Parkway funding was safe.
Politics being what they are, however, it would be a mistake to assume that’s true before the hearing and especially before the commission votes later this month.
The Grand Parkway is vital for this region. It would improve hurricane evacuation and spark development on the west side of League City and improve the day-in, day-out mobility with a major east-west corridor through Galveston County, where the other main routes run north and south.
The commission is still scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday in Austin on its draft Unified Transportation Program and is accepting public comment until Aug. 12.
The Grand Parkway plan seems to be in better than critical condition, thanks to public support from all over the county. Another dose of that might get it fully back on its feet.
• Michael A. Smith