Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"If you're going to undertake something that is in excess of $1 billion, you better go and figure out what is this thing."

County awards Texas 288 toll project to Houston firm

$5.5 million deal is the start of a project expected to cost about $1.2 billion


Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2008

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday took the first steps toward adding toll lanes to Texas 288, naming a Houston design firm to manage the project and devise what those lanes may one day look like.

The commissioners awarded a $5.5 million contract to the Houston-based firm, TCB Inc., to push forward with designs and other elements of the proposed 26-mile project.

"If we don't start now, it just takes too long to get it under way," County Judge Ed Emmett said.

"The U.S. 290 corridor may be the most congested highway in the state, and in the last year we've noticed that 288 is getting right up there."

The project, at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion, calls for adding toll lanes from the Southwest Freeway to the proposed Grand Parkway in Brazoria County, explained Peter Key, deputy director of the Harris County Toll Road Authority. Existing lanes would not be converted to toll lanes, he said.

'Still a concept'

The TCB contract, Key said, will flesh out what toll lanes along the Texas 288 corridor might entail. The firm, he added, will come up with plans on how the lanes will flow into downtown and the Texas Medical Center.

"It's still a concept," he said. "Who knows what will happen years from now, whether Harris County wants to go and undertake this project?

"But, if you're going to undertake something that is in excess of $1 billion, you better go and figure out what is this thing."

If the county proceeds with the project, actual construction remains several years away.

No federal funds

The Texas Department of Transportation's environmental assessment remains pending and may take a couple of years to complete said Raquelle Lewis, a TxDOT spokeswoman.

It also would require an OK by the Federal Highway Administration.

No federal funds are anticipated for the project, Emmett said.

The Texas 288 toll road project is just one of six Harris County has in the works. The other projects include completion of Beltway 8; extension of the Hardy Toll Road to downtown and turning the Hempstead Highway into a toll road.

Last year, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill into law that set a two-year moratorium on toll roads built by private companies through contracts with the Texas Department of Transportation.

The law also gave county toll road authorities first right of refusal to build the toll projects.

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