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Woodlands seeks funds for bike, walking path improvements

October 9, 2018

Plans for improvements and new projects in the vast network of pedestrian and bicycle paths throughout The Woodlands are being altered before being submitted to a regional entity in hopes of acquiring grants to help pay for the three projects.

During a Sept. 26 meeting of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors, representatives from several consulting groups hired by the township to help prepare technical documents and also applications for grants through the Houston-Galveston Area Council gave a presentation to directors updating them on the project of the massive project.

John Powers, an assistant general manager for community services at the township, said the project dates back to 2015 when the Pedestrian-Bicycle Master Plan was first unveiled, and also to August of 2016, when township officials sought help with the Pedestrian-Bicycle Master Plan, hoping to secure funding assistance for a list of more than 60 projects in varying categories totalling about $53 million in potential costs.

At the time, five projects were culled from the list and designated as “fast track,” of those, one was completed quickly — a connector path to the park and ride lot from Sterling Ridge and Ridge Gap. There were also projects with longer timelines that were identified at the time, but not acted on.

“(Sterling Ridge and Ridge Gap) was completed. It was completed with some FTA funds with a 5 percent match by the township and a 95 percent match from the FTA. That left four of the short-term projects,” Powers said. “(The consulting firms) have evaluated the criteria and they are here to make recommendations.”

In August, the township enlisted the assistance of a second consulting firm to help analyze the projects, and after review the other four “fast track” projects were deemed as not viable options for acquiring funding assistance, so a second group of three projects was recommended to be submitted to H-H-GAC for consideration for grants and funding help.

According to township documents, the three projects include the Kuykendahl Road shared use path, which will allow completion of any missing path sections along Kuykendahl Road; the Panther Creek Side Path, which will create a path on South Panther Creek Drive from Flintridge to Coralberry; and the Barrier Access Gap extended project, which creats a side path on College Park Drive that will connect Harper’s Landing to the pathway system from Alden Woods to Trade Center.

The total costs for the three projects is listed at a combined $5.85 million, of which township officials reported 80 percent of the cost would be covered by grants leaving the township with a requirement to pay the matching amount of $1.17 million. The township hopes to acquire funds to help with the project from the federal Transportation Improvement Program, also known as TIP.

Erin Williford, a department manager with Jones and Carter, told the directors the firm has examined funding criteria and examined the associated projects, making recommendations about what projects to pursue in the current grant cycle. Williford was joined by another consultant, Jim Webb of The Goodman Corp., which was enlisted to help with the project details. The two firms are being paid a combined $100,000 for their work on the project.

“Our goal for you is to simply get things funded, to get projects built. The bicycle community is excited and really almost desperate to get more projects on the ground,” Williford said. “Where are we in the process? As far as the TIP funding primarily, we looked at the criteria. As a result of looking at things, and we’ve made some recommendations.”

Webb then went into a description of the TIP criteria devised by H-GAC, which was released in early September and focuses on easier projects to construct, including those that do not involve acquiring right of ways, there are no major environmental issues and collaborating entities are not hard to work with.

“They are looking for positive benefit-cost ratios. They have produced a very rigid benefit model looking at three areas: congestion reduction, emissions and safety. We have to use their assumptions and tools in how we evaluate these projects,” Webb said. “We need to be cognizant that these projects are being submitted from nearly every political subdivision within the eight county region. There are a variety of needs in the region and only a limited amount of federal funds.”

Webb said these criteria result in the need to be very selective in what projects are submitted in the quest for funding, which is one reason why the “fast track” projects were deferred on in this session and new, recommended projects, were highlighted.

Williford explained the details of the recommended projects, with some back and forth comments and questions coming from various board members who had questions about definitions of terms and features, as well as seeking more detailed information and diagrams.

Local bicycle advocates concerned

Prior to the presentation, several members of the local bicycling community, including members of the Bike The Woodlands Coalition, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting about bike paths and safety around the township.

David Ward, from the Bike The Woodlands Coalition, said he and other biking enthusiasts believe the trees and curves on curren bike and walking paths in the township limit sight lines for both bicycle riders as well as walkers and joggers, creating dangerous situations for all who use the paths. Ward called on the township board to do more to fund better bicycling paths.

Another member of the coalition, Fernanda Suarez, also spoke, telling the board that the paths throughout the township are potentially dangerous for bicyclists as well as joggers, runners and walking pedestrians. Suarez also cited some of the fatalities in recent years involving bicyclists.

“It is kind of dangerous, there are a lot of blind spots,” Suarez said.

Another speaker asked for the shoulder area of Lake Woodlands Drive to be made into a dedicated bicycling lane, also known as an “on-road” bike path.

The township board took no action on the proposed plans, citing the need for more analysis, research and data. The consulting groups will come back to the township board during an October meeting with the new information before the applications for grant funds can be submitted.

jeff.forward@chron.com

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