Monday, February 28, 2011

Grand Parkway takes significant step forward

Segment F-2 of the Grand Parkway near The Woodlands Texas is moving on. On the 24th of February, the Parkway Commission was granted "Construct" authority to accelerate the completion of the Harris County segments of the parkway. Locally, we have interest in this segment that connects the North Freeway (I-45) to the Tomball Freeway (SH249). There will probably be some interest in the segment from I45 to US59 also.

This parkway will have highway speed design, not parkway speed design. The anticipated speed limit is 70 MPH.  This will be a freeway with feeder roads in selected locations. There will be full interchanges built at I45 and SH249. The completion target date continues to be 2014. This is a huge $434.2mm project, likely to impact traffic flow in some areas during construction.

Additional definition of access:
"Grade separations with entrance and exit ramps will be built at the following roads: Gleannloch Forest
Drive/ Champion Forest Drive, FM 2920/Boudreaux Road, Spring Stuebner Road/Kuykendahl
Road, Gosling Road, and the future Sawmill Road. Grade separations without entrance/exit
ramps will be built at the following locations: Hufsmith Kohrville Road/Burlington Northern Santa
Fe Railroad (BNSFRR), Northcrest Road, Rothwood Road/Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), and
Mossy Oaks Road. An additional grade separation may be built over a future internal road within
the Lakes of Avalon Village subdivision (exact location will be determined during the final design
of the project in coordination with the City of Houston). Frontage roads will be limited to the
following locations: 1) extending from SH 249 to the future Boudreaux Road intersection; 2)
along the alignment of Boudreaux Road from the Gleannloch Forest Drive intersection to a point
immediately north of FM 2920; and 3) extending westward approximately one half mile from IH
45 to the future location of Sawmill Road." From  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION  Federal Highway Administration RECORD OF DECISION.

The parkway is to absorb the traffic growth of the next two decades. It is also to take traffic off of county roads and reduce traffic accidents on those roads. It will provide an alternative for The Woodlands residents who wish to access I45 or SH249. Commute times for some residents will be shortened, and Woodlands Parkway traffic volume should be reduced, especially for some of us living in the villages of Panther Creek, Indian Springs and Creekside Park.

This new freeway segment will be comprised of 627 acres. There will be a price beyond dollars. It will displace some homes currently in its path, move some fences and facilities and impact access to certain locations during construction. This freeway will be a Toll Road, so some residents will choose free public roads over this toll road, especially for short distances. Commuters in Harris County will likely use the road heavily.

As The Woodlands grows up to be whatever it will be, this will provide major traffic relief and access to and from our community. Traffic along Gosling south of Woodlands Parkway and along Kuykendahl south of Woodlands Parkway will no longer need to access SH2920 to the south or Woodlands Parkway to the north for regional transportation.

Segment Focus Area Fact Sheet link (click here)- there is an interesting map on this online document, the last proposal which was slightly altered before finalization. The preferred alternative was presented to the landowners and after hearings, some slight modifications were made to reduce cost and accommodate proposed changes.

Map of Parkway

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Volunteers - their giving, their concerns and their rewards

In any community, there are people who wish to give their time for their neighbors benefit. A volunteer is after all, part of a community with similar issues and concerns and often a similar value system. The community goes to church together; they shop together; they walk and exercise together. In The Woodlands Texas, we are in the midst of an election to select individuals to volunteer positions, neighbors who we want to lead in community activities, to protect our home investment and to make our home environment as pleasant as feasible. Some of the positions are for one year; others are for two.

Those of us who give our time, we want to be appreciated. The giving is one thing, the appreciation for it another. When I started giving my time to the community, I was simply amazed how the community supported their volunteers. There were group activities where you worked side by side with others in The Woodlands and socialized with them a little as you worked for the cause at hand. What was really tremendous was the social party at the end of the year. There would be dinner, volunteer awards, association staff awards, remembrances and celebration of the year's accomplishments, a memory keepsake for each volunteer and wife, and dancing. I remember meeting many of the leaders in the community right there, eating dinner with them and their spouses, talking to them over a glass of wine and d'oeuvres before the event. The first year of the Township brought a huge change to how the volunteers were treated. Instead of the celebration and the social mix, we had a hand shaking and hugs from the Township Board of Directors. Thanks was expressed this year by word from the Chairman of the board, a gift and a photo. This year we also find ourselves one major community event shorter than before. We will not have an Earth Day. I hope this is not setting a trend for the future. Already, in one year, two community values have been compromised.

So what happened? The board decided to find a cheap way to tell the volunteers thank you. Simple as that. I can tell you from my point of view that my wife did not appreciate being ignored. The wisdom and learning of the past has been thrown out the door. In comes with the new order. Forget the past and our heritage. Let's start all over, because after all, the Woodlands Association is no more. What wisdom could there possibly have been in the leaders of the past anyway? We will all see our values compromised until we get people into office who seek opinion, bounce ideas off others and in general, not be so business-centric.

Although I don't want to be overly negative or be unappreciative for what the board did, quite frankly, they spent millions of dollars on things we don't need and did not spend it on what really matters - the community. Will the lack of social interaction for volunteers impact what gets done here? It certainly will. We have enough problems with getting people out to vote and to care about our community without the Township Board putting a lid on it. To me this was a disaster. The first year of the Township, and we get a significant error in the handling of our volunteers.

To make it worse, as a volunteer, I expressed my regret of this to a board member. I simply said "I did not like the new way. I much preferred the old way of showing appreciation." The response? "What's wrong Randy, you don't like change, do you?"  My response was simple enough. Of course I like change, but I don't like changing something that is great into something that is awful. How can a Director of the government of The Woodlands make such a comment in a public meeting? It would be good if the Board of Directors give thought into what they change and ask questions. I learned long ago, as a project manager, that stakeholders are the first to be asked in any change affecting them. Were you asked? I wasn't, just like I was not asked about any decision this year. I suspect you weren't either!

Something is wrong here. I will let you think about it and maybe you want to comment on it here. I have given a great deal of thought to what this board has done and not done, what their skills are and what their skills are not. They have made positive strides, but they have also made some serious blunders. We have an election coming up.  It is time to reflect on the first year, where we are, where we are going and what skills are needed on the board.

It is also time right now to vote for volunteer leaders for the villages. I encourage you to participate on the RDRCs and on the boards of the villages. If you can't, please support those who are willing to work for you. Vote for them. These people are the grass roots, from which ideas grow and social interaction brings people together for the good of the community. It is easy to vote; it takes about three minutes to do during convenient voting this week. Details are found on the Township website (click here). The location is the Woodlands Township Service Center on Lake Woodlands Drive across from the Methodist Church, just west of Market Street and HEB.

Yes, I am running for a position - President of Indian Springs Village. But like I have been saying, this is not about me, it is about your community. Please be a part of it and help in any way you can. It is important who we put into office!