Image: While the David Memorial Drive Extension is underway, thanks to the efforts of Shenandoah Mayor Ritch Wheeler, the Shenandoah City Council, and Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts, the road project, which Wheeler and Metts both agree is important for mobility and for public safety, will now terminate at the northern edge of the City of Shenandoah. A third person has failed to do his job to procure the necessary funding from the federal government (in taxes Montgomery County citizens have already paid) to complete the project.
Commissioner Metts moves forward with long-awaited David Memorial Drive
Conroe and Shenandoah, June 2 – Precinct 4 Montgomery County Commissioner James Metts has begun to make substantial progress on the David Memorial Drive Extension which extends the road behind Portofino Shopping Center northward and will eventually, according to current plans, reach all the way to State Highway 242 likely at the underpass which is at the southeast corner of the Woodlands Trade Center. Metts negotiated and is responsible for a $396,509.80 contract with Bleyl Engineering, which the Montgomery County Commissioners Court unanimously approved this past Tuesday, May 28, 2019, and is the first substantial progress the County government has ever made on this important mobility and public safety project.
Commissioner Metts is pushing the project forward as fast as possible. The City of Shenandoah is constructing the portion of David Memorial Drive inside the city limits. Clearly, the person who has failed Shenandoah, Conroe, and the citizens of Montgomery County is Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley who just isn’t doing his job.
The County government-Bleyl Engineering contract provides for a feasibility study for the proper location of David Memorial Drive, preliminary design work, preliminary hydraulics and hydrology work, and preparation of a cost estimate for construction services.
Metts told The Golden Hammer, “This project is very important. My staff and I consider it one of the most important projects in my Precinct. It’s time for us to move forward.” Metts seemed very focused on David Memorial Drive and was very open about the project’s progress. “This project has $2 million from the [2015 road] bond, so after this contract with Bleyl, there’s money available for it.”
The Precinct 4 Commissioner explained that Montgomery County hopes to receive funding through Transportation Infrastructure Funds (TIF) from the Houston Galveston Area Council (HGAC), the regional organization which prioritizes federal highway funds and determines which projects should receive those funds. Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley is the County government representative on HGAC.
Metts very kindly made his staff available to this newspaper to explain the details of David Memorial Drive.
Metts’ Chief of Staff Phyllis Martin and his Precinct Engineer, Bill Smith, also spoke with this newspaper about the project. “We had hoped to get an interlock agreement in place, but that has not yet happened,” Martin explained. “David Memorial Drive spans three jurisdictions, the City of Shenandoah, the County, and the City of Conroe. The northern end of the project would be in Conroe.”
The northern edge of Shenandoah is just north of the location of the current Sam Moon Center next to Metro Park, which is also a Moon Family development. “The County has the obligation to construct the portion which is only in the County between Shenandoah to the south and Conroe to the north,” Martin said. “The City of Conroe is not interested in participating in the funding of the project. Since the interlocal agreement isn’t there, the County will pay for preliminary engineering. We hope the project might qualify for TIF funding from HGAC.”
Precinct 4 Engineer Bill Smith explained, “The timing for completion of this project is probably two to four years or maybe a little longer. The City of Shenandoah is spearheading getting the TIF funding.”
Smith further said that both the City of Shenandoah and Commissioner Metts are negotiating with Methodist Hospital to attempt to obtain the missing funding from them, since the road extension in the City of Conroe is immediately adjacent to the north of Methodist Hospital.
“The crossover to connect with 242 will be underneath the bridge judge to the east of South Trade Center Boulevard,” Smith elaborated.
Shenandoah fulfills its responsibility
Shenandoah Mayor Ritch Wheeler explained to this newspaper, “Shenandoah has budgeted sufficient funds to extend David Memorial Drive to our northern border, which is approximately one to one-and-a-quarter miles beyond the circle which is the current terminus. We’re building the road behind the Metro Park commercial property. The County portion is north of there up to approximately 1,500 feet shy of State Highway 242. The last 1,500 fee is behind Methodist Hospital and within the Conroe city limits. Conroe doesn’t have much of an appetite to pay for the road.”
Wheeler said, “Shenandoah and I see the road differently from the City of Conroe, because that hospital needs that road for ambulances…It’s important from a health and safety standpoint, especially if there’s a flood, we’ll need this access to get in and out of Methodist Hospital.”
The City has budgeted $2.3 million for its portion of the road. Bleyl, the City’s Engineer as well as the engineer who now has a contractual relationship with Montomgery County, believes the County’s portion of David Memorial Drive will be approximately $3 million, according to Wheeler. “The owner of Metro Park has said he would fund the portion of David Memorial behind his property. That’s Daniel Moon and the Moon family.”
With the $1.6 million of road funds already available to Montgomery County from the 2015 road bond package, which voters approved in November, 2015, the County still needs to find an additional $1.4 million or so to complete David Memorial Drive all the way to connect with SH 242.
“We talked to Methodist Hospital about paying their portion of the road. Those discussions have gone dormant,” Wheeler said. “There are protected wetlands, but the City and Daniel Moon have gotten their wetlands mitigation credits.” Wheeler doesn’t know if the County has resolved the wetlands problem for its portion of the proposed road.
Riley’s HGAC absences
In 2018, Shenandoah sought TIF funding from HGAC. The project didn’t receive the priority placement on the list, which the City and County had wanted. Clearly, one of the problems for Montgomery County in obtaining higher priorities for TIF funding from HGAC for important local projects, such as David Memorial Drive, are the continuous absences of Riley from HGAC meetings.
Riley has missed the last three HGAC meetings, according to retired civil engineer and Republican Precinct Chairman David Smith, who attends all of HGAC’s Policy Council and Transportation Policy Council meetings. Last year, HGAC’s records show that Riley missed about two-thirds of all HGAC meetings and had little opportunity to provide input for HGAC determinations during that year.
Shenandoah is proceeding cautiously with the construction project, according to Mayor Wheeler. “We don’t want to waste taxpayers’ money and build a road that dead-ends into wetlands. To get this project done, it will require that we all apply pressure to Methodist, the City of Conroe, which has been a good partner, and HGAC to get them to realize that everyone in this region has a stake in this important road extension,” the Mayor said.