The Grand Parkway: Road to Nowhere or a Must For Houston’s Future?

The Grand Parkway was dreamed up long ago as a 180 mile ring road circling greater Houston. But less than thirty miles have been built so far. The Texas Department of Transportation now says it expects to have the nearly half billion dollars it needs to build the next section. It would run north-south and connect the Katy Freeway with US 290. But that segment is highly contentious because it would run across the Katy Prairie and would spur suburban development. In the first of our two-part series, Wendy Siegle traced the route Segment E could take.

“I’m pretty happy. It’s going to have more traffic and more people coming around the area.”

Nelda Enriquez lives on five acres in northeast Katy. There are a few houses scattered here and there, some cattle grazing, and plenty of open fields. But that could change. Enriquez lives about a mile from where TxDOT wants to build the next section of the Grand Parkway. Her road is parallel to the proposed 14 mile segment. Enriquez wants the four lane toll road. In fact, she can’t wait for construction to start.

“The sooner it comes the better.”

She says the road will generate more business for the mechanic who rents some of her property next door. She says she’s looking forward to having more neighbors.

“Once the area starts to get developed instead of being just country ranches and little areas, you’re going to have neighborhoods; you’re going to have a lot of people around you.”

Tracy Martin lives just down the road. She’s lived in Katy Country Estates for 17 years. It’s a mix of mobile homes and brick houses. If Segment E gets built, it will be half a mile away.

“We moved out here for a reason, you know? It’s nice. It’s quiet. It’s twenty minutes to town. But we don’t have the traffic out here and now we’re going to. We’re going to have all of the gas stations, convenient stores, grocery stores.”

There are no homes directly in the path of the proposed road. Right now the area is sparsely populated. That’s why the loudest opposition has been from environmental groups who say this part of the Grand Parkway shouldn’t be built because it will cut through the Katy Prairie — a place rich with wetlands, birds, and other wildlife.

“Oh look! See that hawk right there? That is what they call a northern harrier…”

Brandt Mannchen is a volunteer with the Sierra Club. He’s been fighting against the Grand Parkway for 25 years. He has brown hair and blue eyes that light up when they spot wildlife. He interrupted himself numerous times during our drive around the prairie to point out meadowlarks and butcher birds. At one point we saw a killdeer bird in the middle of the road, bobbing its tan little head up and down. Mannchen takes me to a remote, windswept spot along House Haul Road.

“To me this is the most dramatic because when you look south you don’t see anything. I mean, all you see is prairie and prairie and prairie. When you look north, except for the road, all you see are prairie and cows. So, where’s the traffic? Where are the people? Why do we need this road? This is a road to nowhere.”

The Grand Parkway would come through here on its way north. Mannchen says the environmental damage to the prairie would be in vain because it wouldn’t even solve Houston’s congestion problems. Instead, he argues the road would just cater to developers who want to build houses.

“This road is a development project not a transportation project. It doesn’t take care of our road needs because most of the people live farther to the east along 290 and they don’t live out here in the middle of the Katy Prairie.”

He says our transportation dollars should be spent where people already live. But advocates of the road say it’s a crucial part of Houston’s long-term transportation plan. Tomorrow at this time, we’ll delve deeper into the possible environmental side effects and hear why some say the road has to be built if Houston wants to keep up with its swelling population.