Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Political Action Committe "Mobility Now" pushes 'pass through' tolling in Montgomery County bond election

Montgomery County is set for $160 million bond election

Voters to decide fates of future road projects

Sept. 7, 2005

Chronicle Correspondent
Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

Montgomery County has set Saturday as the date for a $160 million bond election for a variety of road improvement projects. Under the plans, the county would dedicate $100 million of its bond issue for the new "pass-through toll" program, while reserving another $60 million to address more localized road concerns.

•Extend FM 830 and FM 2978
•Complete the Lone Star Parkway
•Reconstruct Robinson and Rayford roads
•Widen Research Forest Drive
•Link traffic management system to Houston TranStar
•Complete concrete road repair in Walden
•Improve safety on Calvary Road

Source: Montgomery County Commissioners Court


The following are polling locations in Montgomery County for the $160 million bond election set Saturday for a variety of road improvement projects. Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
•Willis Community Building, 109 W. Mink, Willis

•Arnold-Simonton House, 905 Stewart, Montgomery

•Conroe High School, 3200 W. Davis, Conroe

•West Branch Montgomery County Library, 19380 Texas 105 West, Montgomery

•Panorama City Hall, 99 Hiwon Drive, Panorama

•Malcolm Purvis Library, 510 Melton St., Magnolia

•Lake Conroe Forest Community Building, 610 Navajo, Montgomery

•Needham Road Fire Station, 9430 Texas 242, Conroe

•South County Community Building, 2235 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands

•East County Courthouse Annex, 21130 U.S. 59 South, New Caney

•Cut and Shoot Fire Station, 14421 E. Texas 105, Cut and Shoot

•Grangerland Community Building, 15961 FM 3083, Grangerland

•Rice Elementary School, 904 Gladstell, Conroe

Source: Montgomery County Elections

Montgomery County voters will go to the polls Saturday to decide the future of road improvements in the county.

"I think we are at a crossroads in the county," said Montgomery County Judge Alan B. Sadler. "Congestion is only going to get worse. We have a distinct choice to improve roads."

In an era where the need for new road projects is greater than available funding from state and local sources, Montgomery County is embarking on a new method of financing road construction to keep up with growth.

County officials are banking on a $160 million road bond to build new roads, with a promise from the state to pay back costs based on the number of vehicles that will use the new thoroughfares.

"The biggest issue which led Mobility Now to support the road bond is that it is an absolutely cutting edge way of getting roads sooner," said Nelda Blair, chairwoman of the committee put together by Montgomery County Commissioners Court to promote the bond issue.

"Montgomery County is the first county to take advantage of it. All you have to do is drive on any road in the county, and you realize we need this."

Crowded roadways

Called the "pass-through toll" system, the county would pick up the tab for new roads up front and be reimbursed by the state, based on the number of motorists who use the roads in the future. State officials call the funding tool a "pass-through toll" because the state pays the fee instead of the motorists.

Montgomery County is experiencing a population boom, leading to congested roads throughout the county. The county's population has increased from 182,201 in 1990 to 293,768 in 2000 and is expected to double again in the next 15 years. The growth is expanding into more rural areas, and the road bonds will aid development in the more outlying regions.

"We don't have a choice," said Stew Darsey, president of the Greater Conroe/Lake Conroe Area Chamber of Commerce, which supports the bond issue. "It's a major step. Montgomery County has done an outstanding job in getting out in front of this."

Darsey said the proposal has something for everyone, whether residents use roads to get to work, move products across the area, drive children to school or seek safe transportation.

"In a county growing the way we are growing, we can't afford to get behind on our road projects," Darsey said.

Future growth

Karen Hoylman, president and chief executive officer of the South Montgomery County Woodlands Chamber of Commerce, said the bond issue is a question of economic development in the county.

"We feel like it is critical for the development of the county," Hoylman said. "We have to be able to move around."

The majority of the bond — $100 million — will be used for this new financing system, called "pass-through toll." It will target five major road projects in the county, including the expansions of FM 1488, FM 1485, and FM 1484; the realignment of FM 1314; and the construction of a direct connector between Texas 242 and Interstate 45.

Also included in the bond issue are more traditional road funding projects, localized traffic bottlenecks that need to go through planning to development. Montgomery County will dedicate $60 million — about $15 million for each of the precincts in the county — to address these issues.

Among the targeted projects are completing the Lone Star Parkway around Montgomery, finishing FM 830 from Texas 75 to FM 2432, reconstructing Robinson and Rayford roads in South County, widening Research Forest Drive in The Woodlands, creating a traffic management system similar to Houston TranStar in Montgomery County, rebuilding bridges in Magnolia, improving Fish Creek Road, completing concrete road repairs in Walden, improving safety on Calvary Road and rebuilding streets in East County.

The road bond issue has gained widespread support through different organizations in the county. Among those endorsing the bond issue are chambers of commerce, local cities and other organizations.

"I think transportation and mobility are one of the top priorities we have in Montgomery County, but especially in Conroe, the county seat," said Conroe City Administrator Jerry McGuire, adding that the Conroe City Council endorsed the bond issue.

There is no known opposition to the bond issue.

Boosting tax rate

With so much money at stake, the bond issue is expected to add 2 cents to the county's tax rate of 49.63 per $100 valuation. Based on 2004 assessed values, it would cost $27.24 more on the average $136,183 home, which currently pays $675.88 a year in county taxes, said County Tax Assessor/Collector J.R. Moore.

Montgomery County is the first in the state to use the pass-through toll program, where the state will reimburse costs based on the vehicles using the road. In one instance, the direct connector from Texas 242 to Interstate 45, there will be a traditional toll for drivers who want to bypass traffic backup on the popular thoroughfare.

The reimbursement from the state will begin about one or two years after the roads are complete. The state is expected to provide $174 million to the county over a 10- to 17-year period, and those funds would be used to finance a new generation of road projects.

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