By BOBBY HORN JR.
CHAMBERS COUNTYThe Grand Parkway, a 180-mile outer loop of the outer loop took another step to becoming a reality this week as officials opened a new 9-mile segment of the highway.
The segment, designated I-2 of State Highway 99, goes FM 1405 through West Chambers County and connects with Interstate 10 at Exit# 799.
State and local officials, representatives from the Grand parkway Association, area Chamber of Commerces and local businesses gathered on Tuesday for an official ribbon cutting for the segment.
John Barton, who served as TxDOTs District Engineer in Beaumont for the past four years before moving to Austin to become an assistant director, was on hand for the ceremony. He said that the segment was a unique accomplishment for TxDOT in that it accomplished all five goals that they set for any road project. These goals are to relieve congestion, enhance safety, improve air quality, enhance economic opportunities and enhance the value of the transportation system.
The I-1 segment, which should open next week, will eventually serve as a toll road.
Marc Shepherd, TxDOT public information officer, said that the highway would remain toll-free until September. Electronic toll booths are being installed along the route at various spots including FM 565. While the final cost has not be determined Shepherd said that it will be similar to Harris County toll rates or abut 14 to 15 cents a mile. Once the tolls are activated the Harris County Toll Road Authority will be responsible for collection. In addition to the EZ tags issued by Harris County, SH 99 will also accept toll tags issued and used in the Dallas and Austin areas.
The I-2 Segment began construction in 2003 under the direction of TxDOTs Beaumont office. J.D. Abrahams served as contractor for the $48 million project. The segment is a four-lane limited access facility within a 400-foot row of way.
The segment is the second one to open as part of the Grand Parkway. The first segment opened in 1994. This segment connects Hwy 59 near Sugar Land to Interstate 10 West at Katy.
With this section complete the Grand Parkway Association will begin looking at Segments I-1 and G, these segments would start at Interstate 10 and go north through Chambers, Liberty and Harris Counties and connect with Hwy 59 North. Shepherd said that they would like to see these two segments open in 2015.
By BOBBY HORN JR.