By Mark Quick
State officials have taken to heart the pleas of Pearland leaders requesting that direct connectors linking the proposed Texas 288 toll lanes to Beltway 8 be added back to construction plans.
“Our concern was when you have a toll road running down the middle of (Texas 288), how is a driver going to get onto Beltway 8 if they want to run over to Pearland or head toward (Interstate 45)?” Pearland Mayor Tom Reid said.
Without the connectors, northbound drivers on Texas 288 toll lanes would need to exit at Texas 6 and use the feeder road, he said.
The Pearland City Council adopted a resolution June 23 urging the Texas Department of Transportation to reverse a decision to not include the connectors. The Pearland Economic Development Corp. adopted an identical resolution.
“As the community and our region continue to grow, the intersection in question will only become more congested. It is imperative that we have direct connectors there,” PEDC President Matt Buchanan said of the Texas 288-Beltway 8 intersection.
Plans are underway to construct toll lanes in the grassy middle median of Texas 288. TxDOT officials expect construction to begin in the summer 2015.
According to TxDOT documents, the Brazoria County Toll Road Authority will design, construct, finance, operate and maintain the portion of the toll lanes in Brazoria County, which are anticipated to extend south to County Road 58.
Later this year, state officials expect to select a firm to design and build the Harris County portion up to its end at U.S. 59.
Costs for the Harris County portion are expected to run $585 million and costs for the Brazoria County portion at $160 million.
State officials also have to work out the dynamics of engineering the connectors and the allocation of toll fees once a driver transitions from the SH 288 toll lanes onto the Beltway 8 toll lanes.
TxDOT’s commission expressed support for the connectors on June 26 after hearing local residents and entities advocate for that.
Issues now in focus include designing the connectors, determining their connection points and identifying how tolls will be collected, TxDOT spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis said.
“We have to make sure the connectors can be accommodated successfully and safely,” she said.
Harris County Toll Road Authority spokeswoman Patti Evans said that safe traffic flow between future toll lanes and Beltway 8 is a primary concern that must be addressed in plans.
Reid said that without direct connectors, motorists will simply drive the feeder roads, defeating the purpose of toll lanes and resulting in lost revenue.
“We have to accommodate and prepare for the tremendous growth taking place in the Pearland, Manvel and Alvin areas,” he said. “If we don’t get on top of this now, we will have even greater congestion problems in the future. I think it will end up costing more in the long run if we don’t do this now.”
Source: The Houston Chronicle