By Carla Rabalais
The Texas Department of Transportation gave a green light Monday to the new portion of the Grand Parkway in Chambers County, opening an alternate route for motorists as soon as next week.
Dozens of state and county officials joined the ribbon-cutting ceremony near the intersection of Interstate 10 and State Highway 99, the official name for the Grand Parkway. The new nine-mile segment begins in Beach City at FM 1405 and ends at I-10 in Mont Belvieu.
The roadway will be toll-free until September this year, when it will convert to a toll road administered by the Harris County Toll Road Authority. All tolls will be assessed by electronic gantries, which are currently being installed on the highway.
“This segment of the Grand Parkway is very important,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Ned Holmes. “Not only does it serve as an exit out of the Port of Houston and industrial area, it is also a hurricane evacuation route and accommodates the population growth of southeast Texas.”
Holmes told the audience that the highway project began in 1965 as a vision of a third traffic ring around Houston. Construction on this segment began in 2004 and cost $48 million to complete, including placement of over 1 million cubic yards of dirt, according to construction officials.
“It is tremendous to see this open east of Houston,” said Texas Sen. Tommy Williams. “There’s a big need for it and too often the east side ends up being the stepchild for a lot of highway projects. I think when we get this open and the Trinity River bridge open in a couple of years, then there will be tremendous new mobility and economic growth in this area.”
State officials applauded Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia and local commissioners and residents for having the foresight to provide for the parkway before congestion became severe.
“I remember back in 1995, we started talking about Texas 99 going through Galveston County, and you would have thought a bomb was going off,” said Texas Rep. Craig Eiland. “Nobody wanted it around them or close to them, so we still don’t have it. I congratulate you for having the foresight to plan for this.”
Local resident Johnnie Jennings has lived in the Beach City area for over 50 years, spending most of those years ranching and farming rice. The Grand Parkway today ends just beyond his property, and it’s a change he welcomes.
“This will open up an area that’s ripe for development,” said Jennings, 82. “We have industries like Wal-Mart, Cedar Crossing and Home Depot that will benefit greatly by this new avenue.”
Beach City mayor Guido Persiani welcomes the highway as a “green” addition to the area.
“It’s our bicycling route,” Persiani said. “It’s a wonderful route, and it’s been fascinating ” I’ve even spotted coyote out here. It’s a beautiful, natural setting.
“They’ve done it right,” Persiani added. “Staying with the plan for a four-lane divided highway with the ability to retain green space â€“ that’s the right way to do it.”
The first piece of the Grand Parkway to open was a 20-mile segment in Fort Bend County between Sugar Land and Katy. The total project will cost an estimated $5.4 billion.