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HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: FM 1960/Spring/Klein News

State says it could be built faster than conventional road; no decision made

By KIM JACKSON, Houston Chronicle, 03/03/05



The Texas Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting on the proposed construction of the Texas 249 main lanes as a toll facility from north of Spring-Cypress Road to the intersection of Texas 249 and FM 1774 in Pinehurst.

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Txdot hearing place to discuss SH 249 tolling proposals

By:Allen Jones , Potpourri Managing Editor, 03/01/05

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will unveil the preliminary results of a SH 249 toll-road study during an open house scheduled for March 10 in the Beckendorf Conference Center at Tomball College.

Since October, TxDOT engineers have been studying the possibility of extending SH 249 through Tomball to Navasota as a tolling facility. Initial plans also called for the conversion of existing portions of SH 249 from the Beltway 8 to a spot two miles north of Spring-Cypress Road, to help pay for the expansion.


Although the conversion of the existing road remains in the study, TxDOT's Houston District public information officer, Janelle Gbur, said the agency remains committed to nixing the toll-conversion plan.

"Last October, Houston's District engineer, Gary Trietsch, made a commitment not to convert the existing road to a toll road," Gbur said. "TxDOT is sticking to that but as the study goes, we had to include the possibility of conversion in the study as a means of assessing toll viability for the rest of the road. The study did reveal the existing road could generate a considerable amount of money for the project."

TxDOT plans would call for the tolling of main lanes for a segment of the extension planned from an area north of Spring-Cypress Road through Tomball to Pinehurst. The tolling plan includes a portion of the extension project known as the SH 249 by-pass. If approved for tolling, the project's feeder lanes, which are soon to move into a construction phase, would remain free and open to commuters.

"The state is still waiting on funding for the by-pass' main lanes," Gbur said. "If tolling would be approved as a funding mechanism, it could possibly speed up the allocation process. It could be another 10 years or more before traditional funding would be available for that segment of the extension project."

Gbur said the public will be asked to watch a 7 minute to 9 minute long video prior to touring exhibits relating to the tolling study. She said TxDOT representatives will be stationed at each exhibit to answer any questions the public may have.

The open house will be conducted at the college between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

"I don't want residents to feel like they have to get to the open house right at 6 p.m. on the dot," she said. "We chose this format to allow residents to come and go as they please." The exhibits will outline a preliminary alignment of the toll-road's route, if it were built.

"This is what many people wanted to see earlier on during TxDOT's announcement of the toll study," Gbur said. "But this is still a preliminary study to give TxDOT engineers a clue as to whether or not they should push forward with tolling as a viable funding mechanism to traditional transportation funding. The next level of study would be aimed at investors. It would be what Wall Street would want to see."

Gbur said the study does reveal that although it is toll-viable, the expansion project could not be 100 percent funded through the tolling.

"Seventy to 75 percent of the project could be funded through tolls," she said. "There would still be money to make-up for."

In 2002, Texas legislators enacted tolling as a funding option for all major new road projects and expansions. Under the legislation, all major road projects must be studied for toll-viability due to state transportation funding shortages. Toll-viability would allow the state to levy bonds to pay for road projects and move them to construction quicker.

The Chairman of the Magnolia Area Chamber of Commerce, David Whitaker, said Cypress and Tomball communities were successful in stopping TxDOT from tolling existing portions of SH 249, but the agency is still trying to force tolling the expansion project from Tomball, through Montgomery County, including Magnolia, to Navasota, on residents.

He said TxDOT officials are acting as though citizens have never heard of the proposal to toll all new construction of state highways and he said now is the time to "respond to this abuse of power."

"We must contact our representatives and inform them of our position against tolling the future construction of SH 249 through southwest Montgomery County," he stated in a letter to The Potpourri. "All commuters must join this cause for now and the future. Some of us do not have to commute each day but many must, so this warning is for you."

Tomball College is located at 30555 Tomball Parkway. For more information about the open house, call 713-802-5072.

Written comments about the project may be mailed to the director of project development, Texas Department of Transportation Houston District, P.O. Box 1386, Houston, TX 77251-1386. The deadline for submitting written comments is March 21.

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This state is headed backwards.

Pay money to get to Tomball?

What a joke.

Well.......actually, the next phase would extend the parkway to CST (College Station) via Navasota.........and once they finish widening Hwy 6 to from CST to Waco, it would provide an access-free route from Waco to Houston.

Think of all the A&M and Baylor traffic that would use that route? LOL...they even painted the sides of 249 overpasses in A&M colors.

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tomball has one of the wealthiest zip codes in the houston area. build the toll road. "get her done"!! if you don't want alot of travel/commuting expenses, work closer to home and live below your means. it should cost more to easily travel around the houston area alone in your car.

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College Station is dying to become part of Greater Houston.

Have been for years.

Really? I don't get that sentiment here--at least not with the current leadership. They seem to be trying to attract attention FROM Houston, as a place for people who want a break from that place.

BTW, have any of you ever seen the traffic on Highway 6 between College Station and Houston on the weekends? Especially on weekends before Spring Break, Christmas Break, etc.? It is amazing how many students there are traveling back and forth. Not only do you have the A&M students traveling down, but also Baylor students. It's a good thing that they've started clearing the land for the Hwy 6 freeway bet. here and Navasota.

I have come back from Houston at 10 pm on Sundays before and I am amazed at how much traffic is on Hwy. 6.

As an aside MidtownCoog, I do think that A&M itself is really wanting a greater presence in Houston. That I definitely believe.

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tomball has one of the wealthiest zip codes in the houston area.  build the toll road.  "get her done"!!  if you don't want alot of travel/commuting expenses, work closer to home and live below your means.  it should cost more to easily travel around the houston area alone in your car.


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tomball has one of the wealthiest zip codes in the houston area.


Hundreds attend meeting, resist affordable housing apartment complex

By:Allen Jones , Potpourri Managing Editor

Teachers, health care workers, and retired senior citizens were among the hundreds of homeowners who packed the auditorium of Northpointe Intermediate School last week to oppose the issuance of government tax credits to help an affordable housing community build on 14.5 acres adjacent to two public schools.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) held a public hearing Feb. 16 to allow residents to voice their support or opposition to the proposed 248-unit apartment development and to the issuance of tax exempt multi family revenue bonds which would designate the complex as affordable housing for low income families. The Corpus Christi-based CynoSure Developers LLC is applying for $14.1 million in tax exempt bonds to help finance a portion of the proposed development at 117423 Northpointe Boulevard, which is outside the city of Tomball's limits, but in the Tomball Independent School District's boundaries in unincorporated Harris County.

The development company plans to lease a mix of one, two and three bedroom units to those whose household incomes do not exceed $25,520 to $42,480, depending on the size of the household. The tax credit would allow CynoSure to sell bonds to investors at a tax-free rate. Although CynoSure's chief financial officer, Mark Bower, told residents the complex would be managed in a way to "maintain the safety and integrity of the community," those who spoke before TDHCA's Multifamily Bond Administrator, Robbye Meyer, said they fear the low income housing complex would fill up with families and lead to overcrowded schools and roadways, bring down surrounding property values, and attract the criminal element.

"I have spent 16 years of my life in law enforcement and most of my work was done on low income housing, which involved drugs and theft," said resident Jeff Rosner. "That kind of crime occurs in locations like that, if it is in a good community or not. It still happens very often." Resident Jennifer Walker said she has been in the multifamily housing industry for more than 10 years and has seen firsthand the crime, that she says, can occur at affordable housing.

"I currently manage a 192-unit mixed income property and a 260-unit, 100 percent tax credit property with bond overlay," Walker said. "I see day-in and day-out the truth and the facts that crime is higher on affordable properties. On my conventional properties, I do not need to hire additional security to patrol the property and enforce a curfew. I do not get called in the middle of the night because of drive-by shootings or apartment break-ins. At my conventional property I do not need to make a call to the police department because calls made from my property were so frequent that the police were starting to disregard any other calls in an emergency. At my tax credit property, I have to close the office before dark because my staff is afraid to walk to their cars. Because a family qualifies for a lower rental amount based on household income, there is an increase in unauthorized occupants. Many families will not list all persons living in the apartment on applications because that additional income could disqualify the household for the low rent. This could create problems as well as on background checks and makes it impossible to monitor criminal activity due to the high number of people who are not authorized to live on site." Walker did not tell the TDHCA administrator where the properties were located.

Area homeowners of all races, backgrounds, and occupations spoke during the meeting. A Klein school district teacher claimed state student assessment scores have declined and her classroom became overcrowded after an affordable housing complex opened across the street from the campus she teaches in. Another teacher said she has even been assaulted and sexually harassed after an affordable housing complex opened near her campus.

Some residents who spoke against the affordable housing complex proposal were members of an activist organization which formed to oppose the tax credit issuance.

The meeting was a waste of time, according to Tomball's representative in Austin, Corbin Van Arsdale (R-District 130), who took time out of the state's 79th legislative session to appear before the TDHCA bond administrator.

"The first thing I want to say is an apology to my constituents because I had to drive straight here from Austin and we are in session and I have to turn right around and drive all the way back to Austin," he said. "I can't stay here and I'm sorry about that. The second thing I'd like to apologize to my constituents about is the fact that I'm having to be here and I'm not in office where I belong representing us on issues that are far more important, that affect taxes, school funding and other things."

Van Arsdale received thunderous applause from the homeowners attending the meeting after he told the TDHCA official that he opposes the development. His opposition, Van Arsdale said, is not because he doesn't want the affordable housing residents in his district - "I think there is a lot of misinformation out there about the kind of folks that would be moving into this complex" - but that he is against the development because of its potential impact on already exacerbated traffic conditions on SH 249.

"I have always opposed every development on SH 249," he said. "SH 249 has a bunch of peculiar issues with it, dealing with things like the Tomball by-pass being constructed ... delays in construction, toll conversion. I mean there are so many weird things about SH 249. Because it was delayed getting the by-pass, the traffic is horrible. There is a difference between this development and all the other developments that I've had in this district. I'm going to tell the (TDHCA) board that when I go to Austin."

Van Arsdale also mentioned that he has concerns over how developers notified residents of the pending tax credit application. Although he said CynoSure may have met the technical requirements of who they were required by the TDHCA to notify, he said the development company was "sneaky," though it may have been unintentional, in who the company notified. "They did not notify the houses around (the proposed development site)," Van Arsdale said. "They notified neighborhoods a couple of miles away and they notified the mayor of Houston, not the mayor of Tomball. They called the mayor of Houston some name that is not even his name, OK. It was very sloppy."

The representative said the notification, which he felt was improper, also prevented him and other area officials from submitting letters that would have been otherwise considered in the company's application process.

"How am I supposed to send a letter to (the TDHCA) that is supposed to be scored when these residents didn't even know about it," he asked Meyer.

Van Arsdale also said too much of his time as a state representative has been devoted to affordable housing tax credit applications.

"Half of my time as a legislator, since I was elected, has been spent dealing with these affordable housing situations," he said. "I can tell you the democrats from Houston and the republicans from Houston are sick of this. It is not right with the limited funds and staff we have." He claimed that his first month in the current legislative session has been spent on this affordable housing issue.

"For example, my first month in (the current legislative) session, and we only meet five months every two years, was spent on this affordable housing issue," he said. "What if I had had two or three of these things during this session? What am I supposed to do about school finance? What am I supposed to do about worker's compensation? Or, asbestos? Just tell these people, 'Sorry I've got to handle Willow Creek Apartments?' That is not fair to my constituents who live Copperfield. It is not fair to my constituents who live in Waller. It is not fair to my constituents in Cypress, for me to just blow off all of these state issues because I'm dealing with the TDHCA." In response, Van Arsdale stated that he will be filing a bill that would place a two year moratorium on all affordable housing units in Harris County. Another bill he said he filed would also delay TDHCA public hearings and the tax credit application process until the legislative session is over. "Until one month after the session is over, we should not have to go to these hearings," he told the TDHCA official. "My constituents should not have to get one-fourth of Corbin or one-half of Corbin in dealing with their affordable housing issue when six months ago I was able to give 100 percent of Corbin to people in Huffmeister or to people in Spring-Cypress. The bill would make all things stop during the legislative session."

The TDHCA has issued a public comment deadline of 5 p.m. Feb. 25. Residents may submit additional comments in written form via fax, e-mail or regular mail. Those who wish to make a comment about the proposed affordable housing complex should contact Meyer at P.O. Box 13941, 507 Sabine, Suite 700, Austin, TX 78711-3941; by phone at 512-475-2213; by fax at 512-475-0764; or by e-mail at robbye.meyer@tdhca.state.tx.us. More information about affordable housing may also be obtained by visiting www.tdhca.state.tx.us on the Internet. The board of the TDHCA is scheduled to rule on the CynoSure application March 10.

The Northpointe development, to be called Willow Creek Apartments, would consist of 11 three-story residential buildings and one non-residential building. If the affordable housing tax credit is approved, all of the 248 units would serve families at 60 percent of area median family income of $61,000. A family of two could earn no more combined income than $29,280 to qualify. A family of four could not have a combined income greater than $36,000 to qualify.

Oppose WCA

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build the toll road. "get her done"!! if you don't want alot of travel/commuting expenses, work closer to home and live below your means.


Area chambers oppose proposal

Leaders say toll road would stifle business

By KIM JACKSON, Houston Chronicle

Tomball and Magnolia chamber leaders say a Texas 249 toll road would stifle business and economic growth in communities that lie along the proposed toll corridor.

Last August, the Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce and Magnolia Area Chamber of Commerce passed resolutions against a Texas 249 toll road after hearing about the Texas Department of Transportation's plans to study that proposal.

Bruce Hillegeist, Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce president, said he was not surprised to learn that the preliminary study results indicate that the extension of Texas 249 from Spring-Cypress Road to Pinehurst would be constructed sooner as a toll road, than as a conventional road.

The results will be revealed at a March 10 TxDOT public meeting.

The meeting is from 6-8 p.m. at Tomball College's Beckendorf Conference Center, 30555 Texas 249 (Tomball Parkway).

Hillegeist said Tomball leaders were told the frontage roads would provide a free alternative to the tolled main lanes.

He said that is not sufficient.

"People should not have to pay to come to Tomball," Hillegeist said.

"We are very concerned about the impact this could have on existing businesses as well as the future vitality of Tomball."

State transportation officials have said the extension of Texas 249 northwest of Pinehurst, where the road ends now, also is proposed to be a toll road. That segment would run to Todd Mission in Grimes County and would not have frontage roads.

Anne Sundquist, president of the Magnolia Area Chamber of Commerce, said chamber members supported the resolution against a toll road because they are concerned about a toll road's impact on Magnolia's economy.

"We feel we helped pass legislation that would allow TxDOT to build roads using bond money, and now they come to us with a toll proposal," Sundquist said. "We will be at the public meeting March 10."


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