Grand Parkway (SH 99) in Houston
A story from the Houston Chronicle describes a shovel-ready tollway project in Houston’s western suburbs.
I’d like to focus on the comment by Sue Lovell, a member of Houston’s Transportation Policy Council:
“Look at the growth that’s going to happen in this city, out 290, and … look at the growth going out the I-10 corridor, and you have the opportunity to link those two growth centers, and be ahead of, not playing catch up to congestion.”
This seems to be missing the point. Too often, major highway projects are built to get ahead of development, all the while not realizing the causal relationship often works in the other direction. More so than simply anticipating it, this road will cause development to occur in this area. While growth will have to occur somewhere, it’s not clear that development in this area falls in line with future land use plans, or if a clear land use plan for the area even exists, or that a large, divided tollway is needed in this area even if it does.
Furthermore, it seems a bit shortsighted to suggest that a highway link between two relatively high-growth suburban areas (in this case, Katy and just west of Cypress) constitutes “being ahead of congestion.” There’s not really a good reason to think the linkages between these two areas would be strong enough to generate a lot of travel between them. They both lie on the fringe of the metropolis, and the road would pass mostly through largely undeveloped land. At this stage in their development, they likely offer little in the way of employment centers and such (or for that matter, much beyond residential subdivisions), so the road wouldn’t really generate better access to jobs for anyone, or alleviate any existing congestion. Essentially, they seem to be two mostly residential suburban areas with little connection beyond the fact that they are 14 miles apart.
A professor I once had made a simple statement in class one day that I hadn’t considered before, but has stuck with me ever since – that, to paraphrase, construction of new roadways “creates value” for property. Such a road, if constructed, will have little traffic for the first few years. However, since it’s a through highway, it will inevitably invite development. Without a clear, implementable land use plan, highway oriented, strip, sprawling development is what’s encouraged by this project (which there is little demonstrated actual need for), and what this area will get. While this road extension has apparently been planned for a while, the Houston area could find far better uses for $181 million in federal stimulus money. Maybe they should’ve spent some of it on a land use plan for the area.