Saturday, February 14, 2009

Woodlands Payment to Houston - Where is that money going anyway?

These are the projects that we are helping to fund with the capital provided by the recent bond sale and probably with this year's sales tax payment to Houston. I have wondered about these projects ever since we signed the agreement with Houston, so I have done some research to share with you. Chime in if you have additional information to share. I ask myself the question, how will we and the region benefit as a whole from our investments?

You know, there is no guarantee that residents of The Woodlands will benefit in any way from these payments, but to be fair about it, Houston is willing to put our money exclusively into projects that benefit the region's shared use of facilities. You can see the rationale when you peruse the projects below. These are included as part of the infrastructure improvement program of the City of Houston. They are considered to have regional benefit, including Houston proper. In simple terms, for now, our money is targeted to benefit the users of the medical center and major parks. These projects were included in the original agreement between The Woodlands and Houston and have been programmed into Houston's 2009-2014 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). All the project names below are in the Houston Capital Improvement Plan and were included in an attachment to their agreement with us. In 2008, Houston asked the township to approve them in a separate memo, according to the process of the agreement, which we did.

The Agreement with Houston; these are the exact project names in the agreement

  1. Herman Park - $200,000
  2. Memorial Park Pedestrian Bridge - $500,000
  3. Lake Houston Park improvements - $4,500,000
  4. Holcolme Reconstruction 2 - $3,723,000
  5. N McGregor Way Reconstruction - $2,600,000
  6. Cambridge Paving - $400,000
  7. Bayou Drive - $3,800,000 (apparently a new road)
In addition, there is another project not listed but already underway.
  • Hardy Toll Road Extension - $300,000,000 (We expected to contribute $5,000,000 during the project execution. This is a multi-year project, and was targeted for completion in 2011, but more likely in 2012. There is a lot to it, including the permanent closing of streets.4
What I have been able to discern from research:

Herman Park
There are several projects underway for this park according to the City of Houston's website.1 Our money is designated for one particular planned project. Supporting the park is worthwhile to us. Our residents do visit the zoo and other facilities in and around Herman Park and many of their projects do affect our residents, although I would think in a small way. The park's capital improvements over the 2009-2013 plan amount to $2.5 million, with The Woodlands contributing some $700,000 to that plan for 2009-2014 through our initial payments.
Memorial Park
Memorial Park is used extensively in the region, but not likely by most residents of The Woodlands. It is shared regionally. We are not a very big part of the benefactors of this large park. Memorial Park Pedistrian Bridge is found in the Houston capital budget for $4,158,000. We fund $500,000 of that. Ground breaking occurred just recently. The scenic bridge will be covered in greenery and is intended for safe pedestrian passage.
Lake Houston Park
Lake Houston Park Improvements - $4,703,000. Some of us could be users of this 5000 acre park over time. It is the closest to us of all Houston's major parks. It has no frontage to Lake Houston, so there are no boating ramps to or on the lake. There is access to Peach Creek and Caney Creek, both of which empty into Lake Houston just north of Kingwood. It is close enough for a pleasant day trip from here, offering fishing, canoeing, horseback, biking and a nature center. George Mitchell funded the nature center. "The first phase of our development of Lake Houston Park will be an entry gate, roads, visitor center, parking, cabins and more campsites" to be completed in late 2010. This is one of the more interesting projects to me. Lake Houston Wilderness Park is part of Houston's Capital Improvement Project program supporting the Kingwood area. Now you see the story. Kingwood annexation by the City Of Houston was the primary reason we organized to fight annexation. So our payment to not be annexed is in a large part going to help the Kingwood area. How do you like "them apples"? This park became part of the Houston parks system in 2006.7,8
Holcombe Reconstruction
This medical center project will provide better drainage and traffic flow on Holcombe Avenue. At the beginning of 2009, the project was in phase 3 of 4. At the end of this, the street will be repaved with a better mobility configuration. The last stage will be to improve water transmission to the medical center. 57 trees of 283 will need to be removed, but the project will plant 80 seven-foot trees in their place. 5
N MacGregor Way Reconstruction
There is no project by this name in the Houston capital improvement plan. However, there is one named N MacGregor Way Realignment, which is safely assumed to be the one referenced. The Houston Zoo web page shows the two names synonymous. This project was budgeted for 2008 but continues to be a work in progress. It realigns the roadbed with S MacGregor Way to make 10 acres of valuable unused parkland available to the public and also makes the roadbed available for a wide path or riding trail. It has a beautiful archway of trees along both sides of the roadway. This $2.6 million investment is tagged as a mobility project to improve traffic flow to the medical center and Hermann Park.6
Cambridge Paving
The capital improvement plan has this as "Cambridge Paving: Holly Hall to IH 610", a $2.1 million dollar project, $400,000 of which is budgeted in 2009 (our payment), to be completed in 2011. Scope is approximately 1,600 feet of Cambridge Street to a four-lane concrete roadway with curbs, sidewalks, street lighting, and necessary underground utilities. This is also a mobility project, to provide less congested access from Loop 610 to Herman Park and the Medical Center. It widens the narrow Cambridge road to four lanes.
Bayou Drive
Tagged as "Bayou Drive: From South Street at Myrtle to Quitman" in the capital improvement plan, this 5.9 million dollar project begins in 2009 and ends in 2010. I was drawing blanks on defining this project until I found myself physically at the Medical Center, where I noticed a sign advertising the project. I will update this article when I find out more. It was a 3.8 million dollar black hole of Woodlands money until I discovered the sign where the road will connect. I could not find this project on Houston's website or any other source. It has to be out in internet-land somewhere.

Hardy Toll Extension
This $300,000,000 project is four miles of railyard, residential area and integration with Elyssian. It is being designed in 2009 and construction should begin in 2009-2010. Houston has tagged $5,000,000 of our dollars for this project, but it is not listed in the regional project list they sent us. This one has high relevance to resident commuters traveling into the Houston downtown area. I may be out of date on this one. Funding seems to be as a toll road, not as a public sector financed road. I am seeking clarification of this as well.

I noted a lack of recognition that The Woodlands is funding some of these projects. I am not sure why, perhaps political.

1 2009-2013 Capital Improvement Plan City of Houston, Parks and Recreation, form "E"
2 2002 study "Transportation Master Plan for The Greater Texas Medical Center Area"
3 City of Houston Mobility Capital Projects 4 Houston: Hardy toll road extension gets final approval
5 Holcombe Blvd with drainage map
6 2007 City Council Notes, p 11-12.
7 Kingwood The Observer "CIP meeting in Kingwood discusses future projects", Feb 2009
8Lake Houston Wilderness Park - official site

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