Image: Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, who bullied Commissioner Jim Clark after the February 28 Commissioners Court for Clark’s vote against the $100 million Tx-249 3.6 mile extension, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway project.
Conroe, March 4 – The Golden Hammer has confirmed that Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley called Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark after the Tuesday, February 28, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting where Clark dared to vote against two tiny expenditures for Riley’s prized $100 million Tx-249 3.6 mile “Decimation of Hope Highway” project. Riley called Clark on Tuesday after the Court adjourned to confront Clark why Clark voted against two right-of-way acquisitions for the project totaling less than $16,000. While Riley sought to argue with Clark about the project, Clark cut off the conversation merely by stating to his colleague, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
In response to questions from this newspaper, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, Clark explained that he voted against further funding of the $100 million engineer and contractor boondoggle, which Clark described as “lacking vision or a mission statement. I don’t believe the Toll Road Authority is heading in a direction that is positive for the future and growth of Montgomery County.”
Clark said, “I don’t believe the Tx-249 project is headed in the right direction for improving mobility and transportation needs for this County.” Others have criticized the $100 million project because it’s construction for only 3.6 miles of road at the far southwest edge of the County, is massive pork for Riley’s and County Judge Craig Doyal’s largest political contributors and for Doyal’s best friend Bobby Adams’ engineering firm Halff Associates, Inc., and detracts – both financially and operationally – from far more pressing mobility projects which the community sorely needs.
Riley and Doyal seem far more focused on the $100 million transfer of funds to their closest political supporters, almost all of whom hail from outside of Montgomery County, than they are on mobility projects inside the County. In November, 2015, Montgomery County voters approved $280 million in road bonds. Since that time, outside of Commissioners Precinct 3, the road bond projects have failed to proceed. Only 1 of the 55 projects is complete, because the City of Willis constructed that road improvement partly using County funds. 24 of the 55 road projects have not even had any internal development work.
Meanwhile, Riley has desperately sought a connection between The Woodlands population and the $100 million Tx-249 project near Decker Prairie. Such a connection would provide little or no mobility for citizens traveling between The Woodlands and Tx-249. Nevertheless, one of the economic assumptions to support the financial viability, if any, of Riley’s and Doyal’s astronomically expensive 3.6 mile tollway project, is that population from The Woodlands would have a connector road. The Woodlands Parkway Extension proposal went down to sound defeat in the May, 2015, road bond referendum. Therefore, Riley has chosen another bizarre connection, at Mansions Way, that Woodlands residents would find difficult to utilize, even if they chose to enter a 3.6 mile tollroad at Tx-249 and Decker Prairie.
U.S. PIRG, a nonpartisan public interest research group, has named the TX-249 extension project among the Twelve Most Questionable Highway Projects in the United States! The research group noted, “Citing outdated traffic projections, the Texas Department of Transportation claims it needs to spend between $337 million and $389 million building a 30-mile six-lane highway from Pinehurst in Montgomery County through Todd Mission in Grimes County to College Station…TxDOT expects vehicle traffic on one road in the area to quadruple from 2015 to 2040. State traffic projections represent average annual growth rates of between 3.7 and 5.5 percent. But data at TxDOT traffic counters in the area show that from 2007 to 2013, the growth was far lower, between zero and 4 percent a year.”
In order to try to justify the economics of the $100 million they want Montgomery County to spend on this project – which TxDOT would fund and build even without Montgomery County’s participation (!!!) – Doyal and his Commissioners Court colleagues, in a study they commissioned to support the project, have relied upon economic projections of the toll revenue for that 3.6 miles that includes the assumption the Woodlands Parkway Extension, which Montgomery County voters rejected in a May 2015 bond referendum, “is assumed to be constructed and fully operational by the year 2023.”
The $100 million project, which Montgomery County voters never approved, and for which Riley, Doyal, and their colleagues are using County funds under a $10.5 million “loan agreement” to the Montgomery County Toll Road Authority (the Board of Directors of which is the 5-person County Commissioners Court), has no clear funding source for the future. Riley, Doyal, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador seem committed to the project regardless of whether it bankrupts Montgomery County.
On Tuesday, February 28, Doyal placed two right-of-way acquisitions for the 3.6 million $100 million project on the “consent agenda” for which the Commissioners Court would have no discussion. Doyal and County Attorney Jerry Don “Ice Man” Lambright (so-named for his wasteful purchase of a state-of-the-art 523-pound ice machine for his locked-behind-closed-doors office) placed the acquisitions on the agenda without any backup material or explanation. Commissioner James Noack complained about the lack of backup material. Assistant County Attorney B.D. Griffin apologized to Noack and told the Commissioners that he thought he had already provided the backup as part of the Commissioners Court packet disseminated on Friday, February 24. Griffin and Lambright failed to provide any backup materials to the Commissioners Court even at the Court meeting, however.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador lied to the Commissioners Court during the discussion and represented that they had previously approved the two right-of-way acquisitions. Griffin corrected Meador and directly contradicted him. Immediately thereafter, Meador moved and Riley seconded proceeding to spend the money for the right-of-way acquisitions from the Tomball Independent School District and the Tomball Tax Trust. Amazingly, Montgomery County’s Commissioners Court is actually paying other governmental entities Montgomery County tax dollars for a road that would supposedly benefit those other governmental entities!
Clark and Noack voted “No.” Riley, Doyal, and Meador voted “Yes,” so the $100 million Decimation of Hope Highway project might proceed.
Local businessman Brian Dawson, who is considering running for Precinct 2 Commissioner against Riley in the March, 2018, Republican Primary Election, told The Golden Hammer, “I don’t understand why the Tx-249 extension, which is 3.6 miles, makes sense and why it’s so important for Montgomery County to build, especially with Tx-DOT’s commitment that they would build the road without us. I don’t know that it makes sense for our county to be on the hook for $100 million.” Dawson also stated that he is “concerned about spending $100 million in debt…[and] is hard pressed to justify that kind of debt without taking the issue to the voters in a bond referendum first.”
The Golden Hammer could not reach Commissioner Riley by telephone for a comment.