Thursday, October 11, 2007

''You all that proposed this plan, you have awakened a sleeping giant."

Hundreds turn out to hear Grand Parkway plans

Oct. 11, 2007

The Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

More than 250 residents spilled into Manford Williams Elementary on Wednesday night to voice their concerns about plans to develop Segment C of the Grand Parkway into a four-lane tollway.

Hosted by the coalition STOP, or Stop Tolls on Parkway, the meeting drew a standing-room only crowd with representatives from eight communities near the proposed highway, which will run from U.S. Hwy. 59 to U.S. Hwy. 288.

''This road is obviously built to accommodate the future residents in Fort Bend County. We are not being accommodated," said Ann Franson, a Brazos Lakes representative from STOP. ''We are just like the people that will come later and yet we have not been invited into the dialogue of this road.''

Current plans for Segment C show it to be a four-lane road with grassy medians and access ramps that begins with an overpass over U.S. Hwy. 59 connecting Segment D. It will continue along Crabb River Road until curving to the west at Rabbs Bayou before hugging the north and east edges of Bridlewood before traveling past the George Ranch and eventually connecting with U.S. Hwy. 288.

STOP is asking for a 60-day comment period and the elimination of tolls on Segment C. The group also seeks the removal of the planned overpass on U.S. Hwy. 59 and access ramps near Bridlewood and Brazos Lakes subdivisions.

Grand Parkway Association executive director David Gornet said he does not have the authority to extend the comment period and that the Texas Department of Transportation's Houston-area district engineer, Gary Trietsch, will make the final decision on the segment's route.

Gorent said after a study team completes the final environmental impact statement, which is due before the end of the year, TxDOT will hold another public meeting. Construction on the segment will not start until at least 2010, he said.

Need for road discussed

Community representatives took turns grilling Gornet about how the segment's route was planned and the need for a tollway through a scarcely-populated area with little traffic.

''Prior to reaching Brazos Lake, there is farmland, people — open land,'' said Lynn Franklin, representing Canyon Gate at the Brazos. ''I guess were trying to operate on the 'Build it and they will come' theory.''

Franklin said she is concerned how much impact taxpayers have on a ''road that goes to nowhere'' and that the tollway will produce more traffic around their communities.

Other residents openly complained about the view of a tollway outside their community and the potential increase in air and noise pollution in a rural area.

''If you look at the (proposed) fly-by (connecting U.S. Hwy. 59 to the Grand Parkway), its like a roller coaster - but its a roller coaster ride you dont want to get on,'' said Cheryl Rambaud, a five-year resident of Canyon Gate at the Brazos. ''From my vantage point instead of looking at the trees and the sky and my neighbors' two-story homes, I will be looking at the Jetsons' version of the roller coaster.''

Gornet later [responded on]explained why he believed elected officials favor Segment C and included it in the Houston-Galveston Area Council's 2025 transportation plan.

''The Grand Parkway possibly provides continued growth of our county. (Elected officials) have seen that it has been a benefit as you go south from (Interstate 10),'' he said.

County judge opposes tollway

Franklin wasn't the only audience member who questioned the need for the tollway. Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert said the county is against constructing the segment now, but added the county can't stop TxDOT from building a state highway.

Hebert, though, wouldn't rule out the need for Segment C in the future.

''One of the principles of doing tollroads is that tollroads are devices of last resort,'' he said. ''You have to have cars to pay for it. Fort Bend County has no plans to make Segment C a tollroad. Theres no traffic out in Segment C.

''I agree with you folks, now is not the time to even be considering the subject. I'm not opposed to tollways. (But) Segment C is not needed at this time.''

Impact on businesses

Quart Graves, the owner/operator of Chick-Fil-A Greatwood, represented various businesses in the River Park Shopping Center on the northeast corner of the Grand Parkway.

He called the tollway's potential construction horrific and compared the tollways impact on businesses inside the center to Town and Country Mall, which eventually closed after construction to the Sam Houston Tollway limited access to the shopping center.

Tentative plans call for the construction of direct connectors with U.S. Hwy. 59 directly over the edge of the shopping center. If construction proceeds, Graves said Chick-Fil-A, Mattress Firm, Bank of America and Whataburger would be forced to close.

Other businesses on Crabb Road that lie in the segment's proposed right-of-way include Exxon, Burger King, The Z Icehouse and Greatwood Automotive. However, Gornet said, TxDOT will not take any action on businesses that sit in the right-of-way until it issues a record of decision to purchase the right-of-way.

Regardless of the timetable, Graves said he will fight the proposal.

''The cement has barely dried on my business,'' Graves said. ''You all that proposed this plan, you have awakened a sleeping giant.''

For information on Segment C, visit

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