Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fireworks, weather, caution, July 4th

The advice is, just don't go out and do your own fireworks this year in Montgomery County and in The Woodlands, Texas. Discourage your friends from participating in home fireworks as well. Report those who are using them in your neighborhood, especially those who you consider to be dangerous. Help protect your and your neighbors' homes. With extreme caution, it is feasible to not start a fire but who wants the risk in such dry conditions? It is against the covenants (a promise we made when we bought or rented our homes); the fire chief has issued a safety warning for a dangerous condition; certain fireworks have been banned in the county.

Public firework displays are available for our viewing here in The Woodlands and in neighboring communities. The grass and trees are very dry this year. Please don't assume that shooting bottle rockets over a pond is acceptable. It is not. This year, bottle rockets are prohibited in this county, as well as others. Please help us all remain safe.

County: http://www.mctx.org/fire/4ofjuly09.pdf
Township: http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?CID=1
Association: http://www.thewoodlandsassociations.org/site/press/press_txt.aspx?page=4867

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SH 242 - make it a part of The Woodlands

Here in The Woodlands, mobility is the primary concern of most residents, according to The Woodlands Association survey for 2009. If you want to put one finger on one related mobility issue, it would be traffic congestion. "Traffic congestion: Traffic is an inherent problem with growth and the Associations need to continue to help alleviate this issue. Encouraging telecommuting, carpooling, or flexible work schedules among Woodlands businesses may be options."1 For years the master plan of The Woodlands has modeled the community with the intent on regional traffic passing on the fringes of the community, not through the community. For years, those responsible for improving traffic flow and reducing congestion have relied on traffic counts as a primary trigger for change. The recent proposal by TxDOT is no different. A high volume of traffic equates to a need for more lanes, not only for the present time but for the future as well.

As we consider the scope of the proposed TxDOT project, there is certain information we need to consider. We are told that 242 (SH 242) already has the third largest volume of traffic in The Woodlands. However, at least 50% of that traffic is absorbed back into the community road system. The section from Greenbridge to 1488 has only half of the traffic volume as its eastern sister from Greenbridge to I45. Other information we need to assimilate is the prior planning by the master minds of our community.

To relieve the traffic congestion during peak traffic hours is on the minds of TxDOT. Their solution is to widen the road and provide a larger capacity for automobiles, sort of a parking lot solution. Give the cars more space to move, and you can get them to move faster and off the road in less time. But this is a bit simplistic. This proposed solution is a response to the vehicle counts made a couple of years ago and the predicted doubling of traffic count in 25 years. An estimated price tag for the project, expanding the highway to six lanes from I-45 to 1488 (FM 1488), is $6 million. On the surface, this appears to be logical.

Several issues to the TxDOT plan have been raised by residents. (1) What is the source of the predicted growth? Currently, the area development plan has nearly been completed. Growth is anticipated on 1488 over the next 25 years as new developments occur towards the west of the 242/1488 intersection and probably on the east of I45 as well. Some will say that the growth of Lone Star College located on 242 will continue at a fast pace, and we can expect much higher traffic counts by that alone. Today, there are serious issues at the college for expansion. The assumption is that parking and classroom facilities can be expanded to provide a functional campus with a much larger student population. Continued expansion of this campus may not be the solution to the education of those contributing to the growth of the county west and north of The Woodlands. Fortunately, the college system has just purchased facilities for a new campus for the areas north of the city of Houston at the Dell/Compaq center near 1960 and SH 249. This may reduce pressure for any large expansion on the campus located in The Woodlands by providing more sufficient resources south of The Woodlands. There are possibly other solutions for educating our youth as well. I do not believe the growth of this college is sufficient reason to expand to six lanes from Greenbridge to 1488. Another issue is the noise. Increase speed of vehicles and increase the road surface by 30% translates to much more noise. Those residing next to the roadway don't want traffic any closer to their homes. They also don't want loud motorcycles and trucks passing close to their homes. They do want to be able to get to where they need to go in a reasonable time.

Let's take a look at this from 10000 feet instead of from tree top level. The Woodlands is bounded by four major highways. On the north is 1488. In the master plan of The Woodlands, the vision has been and continues to be one where east/west traffic would circumvent The Woodlands via 1488 on its northern perimeter, where The state forest prevents northern expansion of The Woodlands.

There should be no reason to have truck traffic passing through The Woodlands, nor should there be any reason for 242 to be a thoroughfare for traffic passing through The Woodlands. There will be sufficient capacity on 1488 for years to come, and it is actually a slightly shorter distance via 242 than via 1488 to the 242/1488 intersection from I45, with fewer traffic lights. North/South traffic should circumvent The Woodlands via FM 2978 and IH45. On the western fringe of The Woodlands, the capacity of 2978 needs to be raised soon. If it has congestion, regional traffic will be encouraged to cut through via Woodlands Parkway. FM 2920 is perceived to be the southern route to bypass The Woodlands, but now we expect the new parkway to form a much better option for county commuters and truck traffic by 2015. On the east, we have I45. Fortunately we had a lot to do with expanding that section of road long before TxDOT got involved in expansions and upgraded I45 in the Spring area.

It would be a mistake, possibly a grave mistake to support this expansion project as it is currently defined all the way to FM1488. The reason is that it would encourage pass-through traffic to utilize the highway as an alternate to FM1488. Then it could even be eventually expanded to 8 lanes based on traffic counts! It is designed to accommodate as many as 8 lanes. But it is a dead end. It stops at the state forest.

Then what should be the scope of the SH242 TxDOT project?
I would like to suggest a different scope. We do not need six lanes from Greenbridge to FM 1488! We need six lanes only from I45 to Greenbridge.

The problem is primarily congestion at Gosling and Greenbridge. There are peak times now when the traffic is moderately congested. I have never seen the problem on this road as bad as Woodlands Parkway. SH 242 needs more east-to-west turning lane capacity to Gosling. Lanes are often constricted in peak traffic times by traffic backed up at the light to turn left, blocking one lane that moves straight through. Greenbridge traffic has an issue entering onto SH 242, turning east in the morning. I am unaware of any issue in the evening but would bet there is a turning issue onto Greenbridge also. This entire SH 242 section needs traffic light synchronization in order to improve the use of existing lanes. Much of the congestion is actually in the area already having six lanes.

So the new objective should be to move traffic efficiently between I45 and Greenbridge and to provide fast exits from the roadway at major intersections. The solution would probably be to make the improvements below:

  • Expand the roadway between I45 and Greenbridge to six lanes and decrease the noise level generated by traffic. It is preferable, almost mandatory, to cover the existing roadway with a noise reduction material. Residents need more than this, but this is all the state could do for us.
  • Reduce the speed of traffic to a safer velocity - suggestion - 45 MPH.
  • Enable the roadway to have trees between the two sides of the highway so that the road has the look and feel of The Woodlands. It would be best if TxDOT beautified the roadway if funds could be obtained; otherwise, the community would support funding that part of the project.
  • Synchronize the timing of traffic lights using the county system already in place. Use state capital money to do that, but turn over its operation to the county. We need efficient movement of traffic onto the freeway and off of the freeway. Unfortunately, the flyover project is a separate project. It has its own issues and the state should coordinate with the toll road authority to make sure the two projects provide a good solution to the area, not cuase additional problems.
  • Limit the project scope to the section from I45 to Greenbridge. Do nothing to the section from Greenbridge to FM 1488, except possibly enable trees to be planted in the median.
This plan should decrease the cost of the project considerably. It should mitigate the problems and address the issues of the residents living next to the highway and/or using the highway. This solution would continue to encourage the movement of traffic according to the master plan of The Woodlands, utilizing 242 for residents and 1488 for regional traffic, encouraging external traffic to stay on the fringes of The Woodlands and not move their vehicles through the community. SH 242 from SH 1488 to I45 is perceived to be a commute zone for residents. It would continue to support traffic for local businesses. That has not and is not perceived to be a problem in the future. Peak time congestion will likely remain an issue on the eastern side of the segment between I45 and Greenbridge, close to I45.

Out of scope is SH 242 east of I45. That would be another project, as it is now. Fortunately residents are making their issues known to TxDOT. I hope the message comes through. There was not one resident I talked to who supports the current proposal.

References
1 The Woodlands Association 2008 Resident Study

Thursday, June 11, 2009

TX 242 Highway Widening Project - continued opportunity to comment

You still have until the 25th of June to submit your comments about the 242 project to the Texas road project management team at TXdot. This evening many residents attended the TXDot meeting on the proposed project to widen SH 242. I did not collect all the facts presented, but there was not a great deal shared. I will tell you what the basics are to help you send in your comments if you wish to do so postmarked before June 25, 2009 or emailed before June 29, 2009.

If you want to make your statement, you should be able to print these two images to complete a form in the format TXDot wishes you to use. You can submit your comments by email even without the form if you wish. Just make sure you provide all the information requested. I have also attached below an image of the brochure distributed at the meeting. The contact information is on the brochure below. I wish to advise on process and provide you with facts, not sell any alternative ideas to you. That is up to TxDOT to develop based on your concerns. I will be glad to discuss this with any local resident or TXDot official who wishes to discuss it. Use this for addessing and sending snail mail. Click on the photograph and you will have a full image to print. You can print the address page on the other side of the same sheet of paper and affix a stamp to the single piece of paper, or just print the address on the other side of the printed paper. Some additional information to that below:

  • Western end from Green Bridge to FM 1488 has one-half of the traffic count as that from I45 to Green Bridge. Therefore, one-half of the traffic dissipates from I45 to Green Bridge or is absorbed into businesses and The Woodlands neighborhoods.
  • Traffic is predicted by consultants, based on measurements, to double in the next 25 years.
  • Project purpose is to handle traffic for predicted population growth, relieve congestion, traffic safety, and to increase peak hour traffic speed.
  • Median is 44 feet wide now and will be 22 feet and raised, after construction. "brush", i.e., the small trees in the median now, will be removed. Medians will be planted with grass. We will have to pay for any trees or brush to be placed there afterward.
  • Roadbed architecture would remain the same with 2-inch slope from center to edge. They would avoid construction on the outside of the shoulders.
  • Construction would not interfere with current traffic.
  • Additional lane proposed on both sides all the way to FM 1488.
  • Fly-over not a part of this project.
  • Apparently no plan to alter turn lanes at Gosling or Green Bridge.
  • Estimated cost would be $11 million.
  • This is the first call for comments. Project is in planning stage.
  • Studies to be conducted after resident comments are assimilated.
  • 2011 the next meeting, a public hearing on the detailed project.
  • 2012 construction begins if money can be appropriated for the proposed project.
  • No noise mitigation proposal was included in the project.

Some hope on the horizon? Villa Sports issue stimulates new initiative

There have been a number of issues over the past few years between residents and the development company in The Woodlands. Now we have the Villa Sports issue. It seems that there is a gap of understanding in developing new commercial properties. There is hope for change, as evidenced in a decision last night by the Board of Directors of the Woodlands Community Association.

The commercial development standards are placed in the hands of an organization specifically established to control and enforce those standards, the Woodlands Commercial Owner's Association (WCOA). The problem seems that local residents are not represented very well in those decisions. In fact, residents are not part of the decision making process, although they might be consulted in early stages of planning. Residents are represented by their respective home owner associations, i.e., older villages of Panther Creek, Indian Springs, Cochran's Crossing and Grogan's Mill are part of the WCA and the newer villages of Alden Bridge, Sterling Ridge, Carlton Woods, Creekside Park, East Shore, West Indian Springs, and College Park by the TWA. One of the benefits of the Township will be the merger of these two associations into a unified residential community, all governed by one entity, the township. This will unify processes, strategies and regulations, with the exception of the deed restriction contracts which are grandfathered. Concurrently, the WCOA is rolled into the township, presenting an opportunity to integrate processes between the home owners and commercial owners. It also affords residents and businesses to be partners in any new development or changes to property regulations or use.

Although residents were involved in some of the decision making for the new Villa Sports complex, changes in plans apparently were never discussed nor agreed upon by the residents living in the immediate proximity of the new facility. This has raised issues in the cooperation of business with the residential interests in the community. How can we prevent this situation from recurring in the future. The bad news is that it has happened before. Many people must take much time out of their lives when the problems are addressed after the construction, rather than before. When the cost can be minimized through planning, there is much less time and money wasted. How do we learn from prior mistakes?

There is a common thread in what bothers any resident who is a neighbor of a commercial area. Pollution! Noise and light are the most common pollutants. Air quality can also be an issue. Businesses have a right to be here, but face it, the residents are the heart and soul of the community. The Woodlands was originally designed as a residential community with the necessary conveniences for quality living. There has been a gradual shift to crowbar commercial entities into the fabric of the community, instead of weaving it. When the businesses generate noise or light pollution in the forest that interrupts the sleep or otherwise degrades the living quality on the property of the homeowner, the rights of the homeowner has been stepped upon. The right to have a quiet place to live is part of the deed covenants of every home owner in both associations. Some people sleep during the day, others at night. Normal commercial processes can interrupt a person's sleep, like garbage pickup, e.g., steel against steel: wham at 4AM or 4PM. Hours of business operation can affect residents, such as a gasoline station that remains open 24 hours a day, inviting loud motorcycles, cars with broken mufflers, loud radios, etc. This is also pollution. We can elaborate ad infinitum.

The good news is that the Villa Sports incident has provided insight and an immediate stimulus to define change. Our current WCA directorship is interested in coming up with ideas on what actually can be done about it. Outspoken on the issue at the monthly WCA meeting were several board members. As a result of their interest and energy on this issue, the board decided to form a four member committee to discuss some possible solutions to this and hopefully to recommend a solution or action of substance to the Township Board.

Can we finally get to a better process that facilitates mutual agreements between homeowners and commercial interests? I sure hope so!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Texas State Highway 242 Widening - resident input, June 11th meeting

A meeting has been scheduled by TxDot for Thursday evening, 6pm at College Park High School. The construction plan for widening the highway to six lanes (30% increase of lane space)will be discussed with resident stake holders. A preplanning meeting was convened by one concerned resident, Sean Guillory, to articulate and summarize known concerns of the project. Families living near the highway could be affected by the project, especially Alden Bridge and Windsor Hills residents. Also affected would be the Fellowship church, College Park High School, Lone Star College and a number of businesses located on either side of the highway.

The main points to discuss are:
+ Noise abatement
+ Median greenspace optimization
+ Curb and drainage effectiveness
+ Traffic studies
+ Speed limit reduction
+ Traffic sign content and placement
+ Traffic light timing
+ Turn lanes and spill outs into neighborhoods
+ Communication and coordination with Montgomery County commissioner's office
+ Gas pipelines next to 1488
+ Traffic flow during construction
+ TxDot point of contact for community interaction
+ 242 and toll road study relationship
+ Outside lanes design and effect on residents
+ Specific alternatives considered to relieve traffic congestion

Basically, there are some residents asking to change strategy and encourage traffic flow to the outer perimeter of The Woodlands instead of through The Woodlands for residents living in the back (western) part of The Woodlands. Some residents are concerned about additional dust and noise by increased traffic volume near their homes. Highway 1488 and 2978 are considered alternative peripheral highways and a means to divert traffic off of Woodlands Parkway, Lake Woodlands, Research Forest and off of SH242.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Come out and help Claudia fight her Cancer

We as neighbors sometimes have an opportunity to help our neighbors. Will you join me in this little effort? This is a letter from Claudia's friends. A sad thing to have a neighbor struggling with such a serious ailment in our midst with young children. Please eat chicken and have your car washed by those who really care for his lady and her children.

WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Some of you may know our friend Claudia Martin and know about her fight with cancer. For those of you who don't know her and her family, PLEASE take a moment to consider how you can help.

Claudia has been fighting cancer for the past 4 years. She has 3 beautiful daughters and a loving husband. She has two daughters that attend TWHS. One is a graduating senior and the other is a sophomore. The youngest daughter is a 1st grader at Deretchin Elementary. Claudia and her family live in the Village of Alden Bridge and attend Fellowship of the Woodlands. Claudia's cancer has recently progressed, and as her friends, we are asking for your help and support.

On Saturday, June 13th, Chick-Fil-A in Alden Bridge has graciously offered to sponsor a Spirit Day and Car wash for Claudia Martin and her family. Please eat at Chick-Fil-A and 20% of the sales will be donated to Claudia Martin.