Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pate Transportation Partners is picked to study proposed toll road in Montgomery County

Montgomery County leaders begin drive to create toll road

Officials approve spending for a study to determine project's feasibility

Dec. 4, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

RESOURCES: Map of the proposed tollroad

CONROE — In the near future, Montgomery County commuters could have a new toll road to travel north in the county as an alternative route to Interstate 45.

County commissioners want to build the Montgomery County Parkway east of the highway. The toll road would start at Spring Creek and Riley Fuzzell Road and extend to Texas 242.

On Monday, the Montgomery County Toll Authority, comprised of the commissioners court, approved spending about $550,000 for a study to assess if the toll road is doable.

The toll authority will apply for a state transportation loan to pay for the study, which should be complete in four to six months.

Steady population growth over the past decade has clogged many of the county's major roads, making it nearly impossible to avoid traffic jams, particularly on I-45. Transportation continues to be the county's No. 1 issue, said County Judge Alan B. Sadler.

''I was driving around the county this weekend and the traffic is horrible," Sadler said. "We need more roads in this county now."

Pate Transportation Partners of Houston will conduct the study and will look at the cost to build the first of three phases of the proposed Montgomery County Parkway.

The project is similar to the Hardy Toll Road and the Grand Parkway, a proposed beltway that would encircle the Houston region, in that it will help move traffic north and east through Montgomery County.

The first phase is the extension of Riley Fuzzell, creating a spur off the Grand Parkway and a connector from I-45 in Harris County to the parkway. The stretch of road is about 11 miles.

The second phase would extend the parkway to Texas 105 East, and the final phase would build new toll lanes on Texas 242 between I-45 and U.S. 59.

Jennie Taraborelli, a partner of Pate Transportation Partners and manager of the Montgomery County transportation program, said the study also will look at route patterns, design alternatives, and traffic and revenue projections, among other things.

If the study is favorable, the toll authority will begin looking at how to finance the road. With state road funds dwindling, many toll authorities are now using private money rather than tax revenues to build roads, Taraborelli said.

''It's becoming the new model with the worsening financial crisis of the Texas Department of Transportation," said Gerry Pate, managing partner of Pate Transportation Partners. "You have to have a way to get them off the ground. TxDOT would have built it as a free road, but it has no money. They're looking to counties to pick up the slack."

Sadler said the county cannot afford to finance the toll road because it already has a lot of debt, and it may need to seek another bond issue for future road projects. The toll authority, he said, will have to issue toll revenue bonds or seek private funding for the project.

Two years ago, county voters approved a $160 million bond issue to widen five major thoroughfares as part of the state's "pass-through" toll program. The creative financing program allows the county to use bond money to pay for roads upfront and the state reimburses the county over a 10- to 17-year period based on the number of vehicles using the roads.

Construction is already under way on two of the five roads, FM 1488 and FM 1485, and work will begin in January on Texas 242, which will have ramps to connect to I-45.


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