Conroe, April 17 – Sugar Land attorney Richard Muller 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. County Judge Craig Doyal retorted during the 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.”
Cost for 3.6 miles of road: $73 million!
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.
Overwhelming Montgomery County, Grimes citizen opposition
Terrell Palmer, a financial advisor with First Southwest Securities, told the Commissioners Court that they could construct the project with revenue bonds, so that no voter approval in a referendum would be necessary. There’s good reason for concern about voter approval. The Decimation of Hope Highway would never pass in a referendum election.
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.”
Riley then made a motion to commission a $405,505 traffic and revenue study. Meador, interested in governmental “profits,” seconded Riley’s motion. Doyal voted with Riley and Meador to approve the study, which CDM Smith will perform under a contract with MCTRA. Noack and Clark voted against proceeding. The County Commissioners voted 3 to 2 in favor of spending an additional $405,505 of County funds on what may be the most expensive – and frivolous – toll road in the history of the United States, the Decimation of Hope Highway.
Doyal’s and Riley’s giant outside-of-county political contributors won another one, while the citizens of Montgomery County lost.