The Woodlands, July 27 (Funerary Friday) – Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley, the Westwood Magnolia Parkway Improvement District (WiMP), and the Woodlands Development Company (TWDC) are moving full speed ahead to begin construction of the Woodlands Parkway Extension (WPX) westward at the intersection of Woodlands Parkway and F.M. 2978, despite Riley’s assurance to voters immediately prior to the May 22, 2018, Republican Runoff Election that he would not allow WPX to proceed. It turns out that Riley, WiMP and its President Rob Eissler, real estate developer and Riley financial backer Tim Weems, and TWDC have been working on the plans to proceed with WPX and to make the announcement after Riley’s runoff, which he won, against former Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker.
They hope to make a public announcement about the construction of WPX next week.
The Golden Hammer has confirmed that Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack has continued to express his opposition to the plan. “I darn sure don’t want it. I led the opposition to WPX in 2015 and I continue to oppose it,” Noack told this newspaper yesterday afternoon. Interestingly, Noack and Riley jointly hired Eissler to act as a lobbyist for the Montgomery County government this past Tuesday, July 24, 2018, without disclosing to the citizens or to the Commissioners Court that Eissler is working steadily to complete WPX against the wishes – and interests – of the vast majority of citizens in Commissioners Precincts 2 and 3. Noack has made clear that he did not know about Eissler’s involvement with WPX. He also commented, “I’m not going to support construction of a road that primarily benefits one real estate developer” referring to Weems.
Riley, of course, repeatedly lied to Republican Runoff voters that he would not allow WPX to proceed and that he planned to build a road westward at Mansions Way “as a replacement thoroughfare westward.” Riley’s, Eissler’s, Weems’, and TWDC’s discussions about the construction of WPX have been ongoing since at least the beginning of 2018.
TWDC has hired Brown & Gay Engineers, the same engineering firm that completed the south Montgomery County Mobility Plan for Noack four years ago, to update the traffic study to support the viability of the WPX project.
Weems, a real estate investor and businessman who owns substantial land along F.M. 2978, has negotiated with Eissler and WiMP to annex his property along F.M. 2978 and some other property westward along Riley’s proposed WPX route that Riley placed on the HGAC 2016 Major Thoroughfare Plan, so that WiMP will include that land within its sales tax collection area and the area over which WiMP has jurisdiction. WiMP then would issue bonds to finance the construction of WPX and repay those bonds using sales tax collections under the plan as the parties are discussing it.
Riley has worked closely with WiMP, Eissler, TWDC, and Weems in order to move the arrangement forward as quickly as possible (after the May 22 Runoff Election).
On Tuesday, July 24, 2018, Riley made the comment during Commissioners Court that not only does Riley not have anything against Eissler as a proposed lobbyist for the Montgomery County government but actually “I like what Rob Eissler is doing. I like what he’s doing with Woodlands, not Woodlands, Westwood Improvement District.” Specifically, what Riley spoke of was Eissler’s dealing to move WPX forward!
In recent days, this situation has come to the attention of some of the members of the Board of Directors of the Woodlands Township. Gordy Bunch, Chairman of the Woodlands Township Board, told The Golden Hammer yesterday, “I continue to be absolutely opposed to WPX, the Branch Crossing Extension, and the Gosling Road Extension. That has not changed. I’m opposed to what Riley, Eissler, and the development company are doing.”
Rob Eissler, the President of WiMP, the lobbyist for WiMP, the lobbyist for Noack, and the lobbyist for Riley confirmed the situation and was very forthright with this newspaper this afternoon. Eissler said the WiMP would not fund the entire WPX but was interested in a portion of it, particularly the areas around Weems’ property and a commercial property, which Weems and others own approximately 6 miles west of TX 249. Eissler also explained that the WiMP Board has not formally considered the request. Eissler said that he did review “the maps.”
Eissler also told this newspaper that there was a meeting on Thursday between TWDC and some representatives of the Woodlands Township in which Bunch made clear his vehement opposition to WPX. Bunch has clarified that no meeting occurred, although Bunch has made his opposition to the project clear to TWDC.
Most disconcerting of all, however, in this newspaper’s interview with the forthright Eissler, was Eissler’s comment that “we [WiMP] might build a part of WPX, but the discussions clearly involve the County government funding some other portion of it.”
Weems did not return telephone calls. Riley did not return telephone calls. Two representatives of TWDC didn’t return telephone calls.
Voters in Commissioners Precinct 2 (Riley) and Commissioners Precinct 3 (Noack) overwhelmingly rejected the WPX in the May, 2015, road bond referendum.
This newspaper warned voters in Precinct 2 that Riley plan to build WPX once he was re-elected. Please see “Montgomery County Commissioner Precinct 2 Voters Should Expect Riley To Proceed With The Woodlands Parkway Extension If He’s Re-Elected,” The Golden Hammer, May 15, 2018. In response, Riley immediately began a fierce personal attack campaign against the Publisher of this newspaper and also began a sign, video, and social media campaign in which he made clear he would never be involved with the construction of WPX (even though he was involved in that project heavily at the time).
In reality, Riley has already begun the construction when he voted for the TX 249 Tollway which includes funding to begin WPX at its western terminus. “I won’t build WPX and have no plans for it” Riley lied.
On May 9, 2015, voters in Montgomery County rejected the proposed road bond referendum with 57.19% of the voters against it. The referendum failed because voters in Precincts 2 and 3 led a campaign against the proposal to build the Woodlands Parkway Extension, because, by making Woodlands Parkway into a major east-west thoroughfare, it would likely change the character of The Woodlands from a subdivision to a commercial area akin to the mess of F.M. 1960. Voters in Precincts 2 and 3 rejected the May, 2015, road bond referendum, while voters in Precincts 1 and 4 approved the referendum although by much closer margins.
Why did voters reject WPX so solidly in Precincts 2 and 3?
- WPX should be a developer-financed road, not one for which the government pays. That’s precisely the issue Gregory Parker has raised in his discussion of this issue. Even Riley has acknowledge that WPX is a road to benefit developers, not the citizens. Therefore, the citizens’ tax dollars should not support such a road. Interestingly, Riley’s and Eissler’s current plan for WPX is, once again, not for developer financing but rather for taxpayer financing through sales tax payments to support government-issued bonds.
- WPX poses a fundamental problem for The Woodlands. The Woodlands is not trying to establish some moat around itself. Rather, as people discussed extensively during the debate on the May, 2015, road bond referendum, a large west-east thoroughfare of the nature of WPX would tend to bring crime into The Woodlands. The problem is not traffic from outside The Woodlands but rather easier access for crime.
A year later after Montgomery County voters had already rejected the proposed WPX project, Riley was Montgomery County’s representative on the Houston-Galveston Area Council in 2016 when he proposed WPX’s inclusion in the HGAC’s 2016 Major Thoroughfare Plan. HGAC accepted Riley’s recommendation, as did its Transportation Policy Council (on which Riley also serves).
Clearly, Riley intends to run two major thoroughfares – WPX and the Branch Crossing Extension – through the middle of The Woodlands subdivision and turn that neighborhood into fast-moving traffic with the congestion of F.M. 1960 proportions. Riley’s plan for WPX in the HGAC Major Thoroughfare Plan makes clear that, despite the citizen vote, Riley intends to proceed with WPX anyway.
Just recently, two documents surfaced publicly which reiterate Riley’s intention to build WPX despite overwhelming opposition from the citizens in his Precinct 2 as well as in the rest of south Montgomery County. First, there’s a plan detail for the TX 249 Tollway, which shows that Riley instructed the engineers – major contributors to Riley’s criminal legal defense fund – to include a bridge and exit for WPX to connect to the tollroad, although under the plans its shown as “Woodtrace Boulevard.” The HGAC Major Thoroughfare map at the top of this article shows that Woodtrace Boulevard and WPX are one and the same.
An even more recent map, which Riley sought to hide from the public and from his colleagues on the Commissioners Court, contains the engineering plans for the TX 249 Tollway. Those plans, which Montgomery County Engineer Mark Mooney signed on January 23, 2018, also show a connector for TX 249 Tollway to WPX.
Riley chimes in to support WPX at the January 23, 2018, candidate forum
Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley debated his two challengers, a local businessman and Republican activist and also former Comal County Commissioner Gregory Parker, whom Riley now faces in the May 22 Republican Runoff Election, at the Texas Patriots Tea Party PAC candidate debate last on January 23, 2018, at the Woodlands Mall. Riley had a very rough evening.
Riley tried to confuse the issue about whether he supported the WPX, but his answer eventually was loud and clear. First, Riley accused one of his challengers of supporting WPX previously. Riley told the crowd, “Whatever you want to call it, Mansions Way will be built over to Dobbin Huffsmith Road. I’m not going to tie it into Woodlands Parkway. 249 doesn’t have to have Woodlands Parkway to be viable.” In other words, Riley doesn’t seem to care about mobility. Rather, Riley’s sole outlook with respect to mobility planning for Commissioners Precinct 2 is whether roads will help to make his precious TX 249 Tollway “viable.”
Less than three minutes later, however, the moderator asked “Do you believe the Woodlands Parkway Extension should be removed from the [HGAC] major thoroughfare plan” This question was important, because even after Montgomery County voters – led by voters in Magnolia and The Woodlands – rejected the May 2015 road bond referendum with WPX on it, in 2016 Riley and Doyal snuck WPX onto the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s “major thoroughfare plan” under a different name, “Wood Trace Boulevard.” Wood Trace Boulevard, however, clearly is WPX, as the picture from the HGAC Plan at the top of this article reveals.
Riley’s answer to the question about WPX was quite illuminating:
“No, I don’t believe it [WPX or Woodtrace Boulevard] should be removed from the Thoroughfare Plan, because the developers on the west side need it. It needs to stay on there!”
In other words, Riley still supports WPX because some real estate developers “need it” even though the voters in his own Commissioners Precinct 2 (Magnolia and surrounding areas) and Commissioners Precinct 3 (The Woodlands) staunchly rejected WPX.
An hour later came Doyal’s turn to debate State Representative Mark Keough, the Republican who is running against the establishment liberal incumbent County Judge. Keough noted that WPX and grade separations for its contruction are included on the letting schedule for the Texas Department of Transportation.
“It’s no longer called Woodlands Parkway Extension but called Wood Trace. In 2016 we see the actual road comes off Woodlands Parkway. It’s there because they anticipate that taking place. Forget about what the people of Montgomery County want. They claim they’re making a ‘hard decision’ about what is the right thing to do. There is a plan [to build WPX] to continue. He [Doyal] told us this road is going to be built.”
In response, Doyal admitted WPX would move forward even though only 9 hours earlier in Commissioners Court he denied it:
“Where Woodlands Parkway is proposed to come out [on the major thoroughfare plan], Woodtrace it’s there today. It’s not Woodlands Parkway. It’s an overpass for the road. Do I think Woodlands Parkway will be built at some point? Yes. 2 years, 5 years, Woodlands Parkway will be extended to 249!” (Emphasis added.)
The moderator then asked, “Should the Woodlands Parkway Extension be removed from the thoroughfare plan?”
Doyal’s response was shocking:
“I don’t think so. In 2006, I got a resolution from the mobility committee of the Woodlands Chamber of Commerce to purchase parcels along the route of where Woodlands Parkway Extension should be. It’s been on the major thoroughfare plan. At some point we will need to continue east-west mobility to that side of Montgomery County from where Woodlands Parkway goes to 2978.” (Emphasis added.)
Keough noted, “He just verified it. Even though the people said this is a mistake. That is not representative government. The document shows the extension of Woodlands Parkway…and the grade separation [as part of the Tx 249 Tollway].”
In other words, Riley has every intention of building WPX “to continue east-west mobility to that side of Montgomery County from where Woodlands Parkway goes to 2978.”
As a part of the $107 million TX 249 Tollway, which Riley voted to approve at the May 8, 2018, Commissioners Court meeting, construction for the bridge connecting WPX to that Tollway is part of the contract already let to SpawGlass Construction. Riley is beginning construction of the westward terminus of WPX into the TX 249 Tollway right now.
It’s important to note that, when CDM Smith, Inc., conducted a traffic and revenue study for the TX 249 Tollway in 2014, one of their assumptions for revenue and traffic usage projections was that WPX’s construction would be complete before the TX 249 Tollway opened. Even with that assumption, the Tollway’s 15.3 mile section from Pinehurst north to Todd Mission couldn’t meet revenue requirements to make the tollroad break even.
If Riley wins on Tuesday, May 22, WPX is coming. No one should try to fool themselves otherwise. And they shouldn’t let Riley fool them either.