Image: A depiction of what the fiscal future of Montgomery County will look like, if County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley will get away with proceeding on their hare-brained scheme to spend $73 million on a 3.6 mile toll road at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County, which concerned citizens now refer to as the Decimation of Hope Highway, or the $73 million 3.6 mile Tx-249 extension.
ERIC YOLLICK, The Golden Hammer
Conroe, May 10 – For the first time ever, the Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted against a spending proposal for County Judge Craig Doyal’s and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley’s fiscally-insane scheme to spend $73 million on a 3.6 mile toll road at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County, which concerned citizens now refer to as the Decimation of Hope Highway, or the $73 million 3.6 mile Tx-249 extension.
Doyal, who is a business partner and best friend of engineer Bobby Adams, vice president of Halff Associates, Inc., the “project manager” under a multi-million dollar contract with Montgomery County which such contract Doyal and Riley pushed through, placed an item on the Commissioners Court agenda to give Geotest Engineering a $46,350 change order to conduct some geotechnical engineering work for the reckless road construction project. The agenda item came at the very end of the May 9, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting.
Assistant County Attorney B.D. Griffin came before the Commissioners Court and briefly explained the $46,350 change order request. Riley, who has received many tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions from the outside-the-county vendors who have received millions of dollars from Montgomery County on the pointless road project, dutifully moved to adopt the change order. Nevertheless, there was silence, because no member of the Commissioners Court seconded the motion. “Sleeping Mike” Meador, Precinct 1 County Commissioner, was absent from the meeting.
Normally, the County Judge only votes or takes action on a motion before the Commissioners Court in case of a tie. The problem, however, is that Doyal and Riley have focused their work as elected officials directly on their representation of their most important constituents, the engineerings and contractors from outside of Montgomery County who give them large political contributions and contribute to their criminal legal defense. Therefore, Doyal took it upon himself to second Riley’s motion.
There was no debate. Doyal called for a vote. Riley voted “yes.” Doyal, seeing that no one else voted in favor of the crazed proposal to spend more money on this unnecessary road project, also voted “yes.” Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack voted “no.” Then Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark announced he was voting “no.”
The motion died on a 2 to 2 vote!
This vote today was the first time the Commissioners Court ever voted against any spending on the Decimation of Hope Highway project.
Citizen opposition to the road project is massive, because (1) Montgomery County taxpayers generally oppose more toll roads, (2) the Texas Department of Transportation has indicated that they would build the road if Montgomery County does not spend its money to build the road, (3) there’s a good chance that, if TxDOT built the road, it wouldn’t even be a toll road, and (4) Montgomery County road resources should go towards more important projects that the citizens actually do want, such as the widening of F.M. 1488, especially from the Waller County line to Mostyn Manor where F.M. 1488 is only a 2-lane road.
Sugar Land attorney Richard Muller, who works for the Commissioner Court, admitted during the April 11, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting that Montgomery County voters would likely not support the $73 million 3.6 mile Tx-249 extension also known as the “Decimation of Hope Highway” at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County. Doyal retorted during the April 11 meeting that “There’s huge support from the City of Tomball, the Tomball Chamber, the Magnolia Chamber, the City of Magnolia, the Navasota Chamber, and fire departments.”
Tomball and Navasota are not in Montgomery County.
There’s a serious question whether the citizens of Magnolia would support the Tx-249 extension. Paying $73 million to create a toll road where there’s a free one now and buying into more traffic congestion don’t sound like very appealing propositions.
Muller also told the Commissioners Court that, if Montgomery County chose not to build the tiny, but massively expensive toll road project, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) would build the road anyway. Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack noted that if TxDOT builds the 3.6 mile road, instead of Montgomery County’s Toll Road Authority (MCTRA), “there’s no certainty the road will ever be tolled.”
The Sugar Land attorney, whom the County government has paid more than $84,000 just for the Decimation of Hope Highway project alone, explained that the design part of the project is 90% complete and the road will likely cost $63 million to construct during 2018 beyond the $10 million the County has already spent for the design work, for a total of $73 million. At $73 million for 3.6 miles of road, or $20.27 million per mile, the Decimation of Hope Highway will be one of the most expensive roads in all of American history.
The Reason Foundation’s 21st Annual Highway Study ranked the state of New Jersey as having, by far, the most expensive highways constructed in America, at a cost of $2 million per mile. The Decimation of Hope Highway, primarily under the management and oversight of Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and their close buddy Halff Associates’ Bobby Adams, Doyal’s business partner and best friend, would cost more than ten times the highest construction costs statewide in the United States.
Meanwhile, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association has stated that the highest cost to build a road per mile in the United States should be around $10 million per mile in urban areas, although the cost of such construction should be closer to $4 million to $6 million in rural or suburban areas more akin to the desolate 3.6 miles of road and surroundings from the edge of Spring Creek northward to the junction with F.M. 1774, where Doyal, Riley, and Meador want to build their $73 million toll road.
Although Doyal argued that people outside of Montgomery County allegedly support the 3.6 mile road construction, Muller admitted, “If every road you vote on, you list individually…I think we all know what the result of most of those elections would be.” Noack noted in response, “People question the need for tolls on this road…There’s no need for the County to take the financial risk on this road. If TxDOT is willing to take the risk, we should let them do that. People are firmly against toll roads. If this were put to a vote, it would never pass.”
Doyal argued that there is “only one road to get from Tomball to Magnolia now.” Riley added that he wants to make sure people can easily get to the Renaissance Festival each year “where they’ve added 2 more weekends to their season.”
Grimes County’s leadership and citizenry have also expressed opposition to the so-called “Aggie Parkway” to which the 3.6 miles of road might eventually connect. It’s unclear whether TxDOT will even proceed with constructing a road all the way to College Station due to the political opposition it has met as the planning for this project has proceeded.
Montgomery County still has the chance to get its money back
Montgomery County’s government has already fronted more than $10.5 million just for the design of the 3.6 miles of road and right-of-way acquisition, a staggering number that exceeds the cost of construction of the vast majority of roads of this type in the United States. Muller, Riley, and Noack agreed that the County could get its money back from TxDOT, if the County chose to let TxDOT build the road instead.
Muller predicted that construction of the road could begin during 2018. “Our schedule is to let the project in early 2018 and complete it by 2018,” Muller said.
Muller explained that, while the County building the road would permit the MCTRA to make the decision what the toll rates would be, if TxDOT were to construct the 3.6 mile road, it’s unclear whether the road would be a toll road at all.
Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador didn’t contribute to the discussion at all until the very end when he commented that “they see profits here.” In other words, the citizens of Riley’s Commissioners Precinct 2 will have the honor to pay tolls that Meador, Riley, and Doyal view as “profits” for many years to come.