To get an idea of what it’s like to get around south Montgomery County, take a step outside Shenandoah City Hall.
We’re about 35 miles north of Houston with Shenandoah Mayor Garry Watts. We’re looking at view he sees every day, the I-45 frontage road just south of State Highway 242.
“We’re a community of 2,316 people at nighttime,” says Watts. “And a quarter-of-a-million people daytime.”
That traffic has gotten a lot heavier over the years and Watts says there’s more to come.
“Methodist Hospital is being built right there,” Watts explains. “A Children’s Hospital is being built right here.”
But the problem is that there’s not a lot of thoroughfares that take drivers north and south, so that just puts more traffic on the frontage road.
Shenandoah isn’t the only part of Montgomery County that’s seeing a lot of traffic. We move south down the freeway, near Spring, where we meet commuter Nina McAfee. She says it’s taking longer to get anywhere these days.
“What used to take five, ten, fifteen, minutes to get to now takes 30 minutes or more to get to,” McAfee says.
McAfee commutes to work at the Galleria, but she says getting in and out of Montgomery County can be the toughest part of her trip.
“We still have too many two-lane country roads that back up,” McAfee adds. “Every morning, every night during rush hour.”
Those rural roads and suburban streets are carrying a huge bulk of traffic these days. The Census Bureau says Montgomery County’s population grew close to 14% between 2010 and 2014.
It now has over a half-million residents, lured by new subdivisions and top-rated school districts, and job centers, like the Exxon-Mobil campus near The Woodlands.
According to some projections, Montgomery County’s population could double by the year 2035. Amid that enormous growth, the county is hoping to get things moving with the help of a $280 million dollar bond issue for road improvements.
Voters passed it in November after voting down an earlier $350 million dollar package last May. It’s the first road bond to pass in ten years.
County Judge Craig Doyal says they couldn’t move forward without that money.
“There’s just congestion out there because of growth that we were not able to address without those dollars,” Doyle says. ” And this will give us an opportunity to start.”
Those dollars are being divided up among Montgomery County’s four precincts. Much of the money will be used to widen roads and build new turn lanes.
The most expensive project on the list is the widening of Rayford Road near the new segment of the Grand Parkway. That work will cost about $60 million. It also includes an overpass over the Union Pacific railroad tracks.
But Paul Cote of the Rayford Road Civic Association questions how far that project will go in easing congestion. He says they need to look at some other issues first.
“The intersection at Rayford Road and I-45 is congested so much now that the traffic backs up for a long way,” Cote explains. “Especially when you’re leaving the area in the morning.”
Cote echoes others in the county who wish there were simply more ways to get around.
“For our area here, having secondary access points out of the area would help a lot, especially if we could have more access to the south, through more roads,” Cote says.
So how much would it cost to build more roads?
Back at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Judge Craig Doyal says if they could take care of all their mobility needs, he estimates it would cost around $6 billion.
“And that number is just unrealistic, so we just can’t get there,” says Doyal. “But that’s why that bond issue is critical. We have to start somewhere. It’s a beginning and we can start to address some of the most critical needs.”
Going forward, Doyal says the county plans to work with developers to make sure they don’t block any potential routes for new thoroughfares.
As for where to get the money to do those projects, Doyal says they could put another bond issue on the ballot in 2017.