Transportation

Poll Results Show Support For Harris County Road Bond

Harris County’s population boom is leading to some big-city traffic problems in areas that not too long ago were considered rural. To deal with this issue, Harris County Commissioners are asking voters to approve a new bond issue to pay for road improvements. The latest News 88.7-KHOU News 11 Election Poll finds voters like the idea.

Back in the day, FM 1960 was used by farmers to take their produce to market. But now it’s a busy commercial thoroughfare that cuts through the unincorporated areas of north Harris County.

Austin Powell works in a vehicle inspection shop on the northwest side, on FM 1960 near Highway 6.

“In this local area, we have the school bus facility right here, so we (have a) lot of school buses letting kids off even on 1960, just stopping on 1960,” says Powell. “So it really backs up.”

A little further down on Highway 6, we talked with Leslie Martone, the president of the Cy-Fair Chamber of Commerce. She’s watched the Cy-Fair population surge in recent years to well over a half-million people.  That also means new business development. But because of all the traffic, Martone says businesses have to make careful decisions on where to locate.

“If it’s a major road that’s congested and you can’t make that U-turn or you can’t turn safely, you’re going to make that decision on ease and access to your location,” Martone explains.

Harris County is now looking at fixing some of those problems with the help of a $848 million bond issue. $700 million would go for roads. Officials say the county is expected to pay off about a billion dollars in debt over the next ten years, and they want voters to give the go-ahead to replace that debt so the county can fix aging infrastructure.

There isn’t a specific project list, but it’s expected the money would pay for needed projects in Harris County’s rapidly growing areas. According to the News 88.7-KHOU 11 News Election Poll, 62 percent of voters support it.

Rice University’s Bob Stein says they only polled within the City of Houston. But from the figures they gathered, he predicts the issue will pass countywide.

“If we don’t build these infrastructures, we won’t see a lot of housing, we won’t see a lot of people able to move into our community,” says Stein.

But just how exactly would that bond issue work? Harris County officials say it won’t include new taxes, but they still have to sell bonds to get the money.

Praveen Kumar is with the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston.

“There is again, no free lunch,” says Kumar. “Any time we take on debt there’s always the repayment risk because economic life is very uncertain.”

Kumar says government entities have to worry about their credit rating, and that’s why the bond repayment is spread out over time. But the problem is that by the time the bonds are paid off, the roads will be in need of even more work.

“You can’t have it as a one-time bond thing,” says Kumar. “It has to be a full long-term bond plan where somebody has to say, okay, ten years down the road we will need more money to basically fix what we didn’t fix ten years earlier or rebuild ten years earlier.”

The pace slows down a bit as we head to east Harris County.  We visit Crosby, a community of about 29,000 people. Crosby-Huffman Chamber of Commerce President Glenda Logsdon says by all appearances they’re a small municipality, but that’s not really the case.

“We don’t have a township,” says Logsdon. “We don’t have a mayor, we don’t have a city hall, we don’t have a police department, we don’t have a courthouse.”

Since they’re unincorporated, they have to depend on Harris County for much of their road work.

“We’re basically waiting on them to decide the troubled areas, and then categorize them as to worst to minimal issues, as to how they decide when they’re going to get to the problem,” says Logsdon. 

Logsdon thinks the new money could fix some of those problems and she’s hoping voters read up on the issue.

People all over Harris County will be voting on the bond issue on November 3rd. Early voting starts this Monday.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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