"We should all be angered, outraged and disgusted at our officials for this continued lie."
Residents oppose project planned in Fort Bend, Brazoria counties
By ZEN T. C. ZHENG
Nearly 300 residents filled the Guy Lodge Hall of George Ranch in Richmond Thursday to urge state and local officials to abandon a proposal to extend Grand Parkway and turn it into a toll road.
"No toll! No road! We moved here for the big Q — the quality of life," said Paul Davis, a Greatwood subdivision resident, at the public meeting. "Don't disturb the habitats of people and this community."
Nearly a decade in the making, the idea by the Texas Department of Transportation and the Grand Parkway Association to extend Grand Parkway, for 26 miles from U.S. 59 to Texas 288, has stirred waves of opposition over the years from residents near the proposed route through south Fort Bend and north Brazoria counties.
Jim Hunt, TxDOT's Fort Bend engineer, called growth a reality in the county and said his agency tries to "prepare for the future."
"Fort Bend is growing regardless whether the road comes or not. Everyone has the right to own their land and develop their land," Hunt said.
The proposed segment is part of the plan to build Grand Parkway, also known as Texas 99, a 185-mile highway through seven counties and encircling the Greater Houston region. The first segment built is a 19-mile stretch between U.S. 59 and Interstate 10.
The segment under fire Thursday would extend the parkway from U.S. 59 south generally along the Crabb River Road corridor, behind George Ranch, and then east two miles north of Brazos Bend State Park, across Brazos River through the Darrington prison unit in Rosharon and connect to Texas 288.
Officials hope to begin construction in 2010 and have it completed three years later.
Officials have said tolling would be a viable way to get the highway built more quickly due to lack of government funding. They said the proposed extension would "relieve congestion," "improve mobility" and help with inland evacuation from the Gulf Coast during hurricanes.
About two dozen residents who spoke Thursday disagreed.
"We should all be angered, outraged and disgusted at our officials for this continued lie," said Jesse Cuellar, who lives in the Brazos Lakes subdivision. "This road is not about relieving traffic congestion; there is none. This road is not about a hurricane evacuation route; not many people used (FM) 762 during (Hurricane) Rita. They used Highway 36."
Cuellar believes the toll road would lay the groundwork for a proposed Interstate 69, known as the NAFTA Highway that links Mexico to the Gulf Coast.
The Texas Transportation Commission has proposed that the highway run along the route of the Grand Parkway. TxDOT has indicated that I-69, part of the Trans-Texas Corridor system, would included dedicated truck lanes and be used as an alternative hazardous material route.
Local officials, such as County Commissioners Tom Stavinoha and James Patterson and Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, are all proponents of the toll road project that they believe would help with the area's economic development.
"This project would only benefit developers and members of the Commissioners Court who will get some political money," said opponent David Marrack at the meeting.
Residents said the plan would create air, light and noise pollution and increase flooding, a concern echoed by Brandt Mannchen of the Houston Sierra Club.
Martin Beres of Greatwood said the proposed route is 20 feet from his back fence, while a neighbor would lose his home to the project. Gary Jacobs of the Bridlewood subdivision said one of the two entrances of his neighborhood on FM 762 would be eliminated with the project, creating potential traffic hazards.
Ken Khayal, owner of a business on Crabb River Road, said construction on U.S. 59 already has affected his business, which he said would be more affected by the Grand Parkway project.
"You guys need to give us a break. The construction is killing us," he said.
Dave Brittain, president of Greatwood homeowners association, urged a sound wall be built before construction begins.
The Grand Parkway Association continues to seek written public comment on the proposal to extend the Grand Parkway as a toll road. Send comments postmarked by Sept. 13 to Grand Parkway Association, Attn: Segment C Comments, 4544 Post Oak Place, Suite 222, Houston, Texas 77027 or e-mail email@example.com
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