In-Depth

Can Officials Fix A Crowded Roadway In Kingwood?

Planners say along with moving traffic, they want to keep the road from flooding during another storm.

Many of Houston’s traffic problems stem from having a road that was built for another day and time, when there weren’t so many cars and people. One example of this is Northpark Drive in Kingwood, a busy road that runs east to west and carries traffic to I-69. 

“The roadway is very inadequate for, I think, just one way in and one way out on two lanes,” said Michal Wagner, a manager at Warren’s Gardens, a landscaping and garden supply company that sits along Northpark. “It bogs all the way down to the light at Russell Palmer so you can have several hundred cars in a row. And as we add more businesses, more traffic.”

In front of Warren’s Gardens, there are two lanes in each direction along with a canal in the middle and intermittent spots to make a U-turn. Along with limited lane capacity, Wagner said the stoplight at Northpark and Loop 494 also slows things down. Added to that is an active railroad track.

“And when people are trying to turn left they completely block one lane all the way back,” said Wagner. “So if we have an accident or any kind of thing it really stacks up.”

Kingwood is represented by Houston City Councilman Dave Martin, who says the Northpark improvement project should have been done a long time ago. And it’s not just the heavy volume of traffic that causes problems. Martin pointed out that after Harvey, Kingwood residents were basically stranded because the road flooded.

“As the mayor says, you have to build for success,” said Martin. “You have to elevate the highway so in the event of the next Harvey or the event of the next Ike, we’ll have the ability to use Northpark as an evacuation route because it won’t flood.”

A two-pronged approach

So what do you do to fix it? Right now there are two projects being planned along Northpark. That includes elevating the road above the 500-year floodplain. The canal would be covered up, so two lanes could be added in each direction. They also want to build an overpass that would carry traffic over Loop 494 and the railroad tracks.

The two projects are expected to cost over $80 million. Some of that money will come from the city, but much of it will come from the Kingwood TIRZ, formally known as the Lake Houston Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone.

But the term of the TIRZ is set to expire in less than a decade. 

“We’re working with city council to extend the life of the TIRZ,” said TIRZ Chairman Stan Sarman. “We hope to have that approved through city council, if not here in December hopefully in January.”

Sarman said that a 20-year extension is crucial so the TIRZ can get funding for the work.

“It would give us 30 more years to sell some bonds and then pay them off,” he said. “The TIRZ out here pays off bonds or loans with the increment it obtains from the areas that were developed within the TIRZ boundary.”

Meanwhile back at Warren’s Gardens on Northpark, Michal Wagner says as the amount of traffic continues to grow, that work can’t come soon enough.

“Well I’m not an engineer or a traffic analysis-type person, but I think if we just had more lanes that we could carry the traffic a little quicker, especially the intersection at 494 and Northpark,” said Wagner.

Council Member Martin is hoping they can get funding in place to actually start construction on Northpark late next year.

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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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