Conroe and Magnolia, July 17 – “I have no discussion. I’m just opposed,” said Precinct 3 Montgomery County Commissioner James Noack, on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, as he and County Judge Mark Keough, “The People’s Judge,” voted as a minority against the Woodlands Parkway Extension, the plan of Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley and disgraced former County Judge Craig Doyal to extend a road between the TX 249 Tollway and F.M. 2978 at or near Woodlands Parkway in order to carry traffic to Riley’s and Doyal’s beloved tollroad also known as the “Decimation of Hope Highway.” The only winners in the Commissioners Court vote to proceed with the construction of a road from Mansions Way to what is now called “Woodbranch Boulevard” are Riley’s only real constituents, real estate developers, who have pushed for construction of the road which will connect F.M. 2978 and the TX 249 toll monstrosity.
The traffic and revenue study supporting the TX 249 Tollway assumed that Riley would construct the Woodlands Parkway Extension (WPX), but voters in Commissioners Precinct 3 and Commissioner Precinct 2 rejected the project in the May, 2015, road bond referendum.
At the urging of developers Tim Weems, The Woodlands Development Company, and Westwood Magnolia Parkway Improvement District, Riley is proceeding with the WPX despite overwhelming opposition to it and despite his May, 2018, campaign promise during the Republican Runoff Election that he would never build the road.
Impact for incorporation of The Woodlands
In many ways, Riley’s construction of the Woodbranch Extension coming eastward from TX 249 to approximately one-third of a mile west of F.M. 2978 and then jutting southward to Mansions Way may very well necessitate incorporation of The Woodlands Township in order to prevent the extension of the so-called Woodbranch Extension, which is really just WPX, to connect to Woodlands Parkway.
If the Woodlands Township were to incorporate as a city before construction of the short connection of WPX to the intersection of F.M. 2978 and Woodlands Parkway, the new city of The Woodlands would be able to prevent construction of the road, which would lie within the boundary of the city, according to Woodlands Township Chairman Gordy Bunch and others.
Riley’s rogue action, which the vast majority of his true constituents disfavor, may become the driving force behind incorporation of The Woodlands.
Woodlands Township Chairman Bunch explained, “Our board has agreed the earliest would be November 2020 [for an incorporation referendum] and, if it is not held then, we would push to November 2022. We are essentially recommending an election of this impact should only be held during a high voter turnout election date. Incorporation is immediately effective upon passing with Township board being interim city council. An election would be held the following May to elect mayor and city council. The home rule charter committee would be appointed to begin writing the home rule charter that will require voter approval. The new city will operate as a general law city until a home rule charter has been approved by voters.”
Meanwhile, Riley is likely to create monster traffic jams on F.M. 2978 between Woodlands Parkway and Mansions Way. I
Don’t think for a second that Riley doesn’t intend to build the Woodlands Parkway Extension (WPX) eventually in order to bring traffic to his beloved TX 249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway. The 2014 Traffic and Revenue Study to support construction of the TX 249 Tollway, which Riley forced on Montgomery County citizens as a tollroad, even though the Texas Department of Transportation had made clear they’d build the road as a freeway instead, made clear that bringing traffic from The Woodlands over a WPX was a critical assumption to support the revenue projections for the bonds for the TX 249 Tollway.
Voter rejection of the May, 2015, bond referendum, which included Riley’s WPX project, got in the way. Nevertheless, Riley, who is a member of the Houston-Galveston Area Councils’ (HGAC) Transportation Policy Council, made sure that HGAC continued to include WPX as part of its Major Thoroughfare Plan in 2016 after voters had rejected WPX. Of course, Riley lied to voters during the March 2018 Republican Primary Runoff that he has no intention of building WPX, but his insistence upon keeping WPX on the HGAC Major Thoroughfare Plan revealed Riley’s true intention to build WPX whether voters wanted it or not, just as Riley didn’t care of Montgomery County citizens wanted the TX 249 Tollway either.
Riley has clearly always treated real estate developer Rick Shelton, engineering firm Halff Associates, and approximately half a dozen County government vendors as the only constituents with whom he’ll have frank discussions. Riley carefully hides from communication with prying citizens who seek to communicate with him directly.
On January 23, 2018, a moderator at a candidate forum asked Riley, “Do you believe the Woodlands Parkway Extension should be removed from the [HGAC] major thoroughfare plan?” 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.
Tuesday, July 9, Commissioners Court meeting: Riley spent $135,279.80 on moving WPX forward
Riley placed on the agenda for the July 9, 2019, Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting his plan to spend $135,279.80 to acquire property to connect “Woodtrace Boulevard” to FM 2978 at Mansions Way, approximately one-quarter mile south of where Woodlands Parkway intersects with FM 2978. The drawings for the westward Mansions Way extension show that it connects with Riley’s proposed Woodtrace Boulevard heading northwest approximately less than one-third of a mile from FM 2978. If one looks at Riley’s Major Thoroughfare Plan drawing immediately above, where Mansions Way connects with Woodtrace Boulevard, also known as the Woodlands Parkway Extension, is before the second purple dot as one moves west on the map from FM 2978.
The Woodtrace Boulevard/Woodlands Parkway Extension road will extend from TX 249, as shown on the HGAC Major Thoroughfare Plan map, heading eastward until it hits Mansions Way. Traffic will then cut slightly southward to connect to FM 2978.
The impact will primarily be that traffic heading west on Woodlands Parkway will cut left heading south on FM 2978 before turning onto the short Mansions Way triangle connecting traffic with Woodtrace Boulevard, while traffic hearing east towards Woodlands Parkway will have to cut right heading north on FM 2978 before turning onto the current footprint of Woodlands Parkway.
Real estate developer Tim Weems was downright giddy in the Commissioners Courtroom after his beloved WPX sailed through the Commissioners Court on a 3 to 2 vote.
The Golden Hammer has confirmed with two individuals who work in the Texas Department of Transportation’s Regional Office that they have discussed both with Riley and with one particular employee in Riley’s office both of whom have acknowledged that Mansions Way is only a temporary “fix” which Riley knows will create a worse major traffic pileup on FM 2978 than the one Riley has already allowed to exist for so long. According to the two sources inside of TxDOT, Riley is “hoping” that the traffic jam on FM 2978 will lead to individuals in The Woodlands and along FM 2978 to “call for Riley to connect Woodlands Parkway directly.” The two TxDOT employees have requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Of course, Riley placed the WPX agenda item (Mansions Way) under the County Attorney on the super-secret “consent agenda” in the hope that no one will notice the scheme prior to members of the Commissioners Court voting to approve it. Noack ruined the secrecy when he demanded that the Court move the item to the open agenda for a full vote by each members of the Commissioners Court.
WPX plans from year ago
On July 27, 2018, this newspaper ran a story in which a number of individuals confirmed that Riley and others intended to proceed with construction of WPX through assistance of Magnolia real estate developer Tim Weems, who owns substantial property along the FM 2978 right-of-way, and the Westwood Magnolia Parkway Improvement District (WiMP). Please see “Riley, Eissler, TWDC to plow forward with Woodlands Parkway Extension,” The Golden Hammer, July 27, 2018.
Rob Eissler, the President of WiMP and the lobbyist for WiMP, confirmed the situation and was very forthright with this newspaper. 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.”
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.”
The race clearly is on! Whether incorporation will fend off WPX or come after the citizens may do anything about Riley’s and his developers’ scheme goes into effect is what many citizens of The Woodlands are watching closely.