(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Houston is preparing to complete an 88-mile ring road this weekend -- as controversy continues to simmer around another, even larger ring road that critics say will induce sprawl. That road, called the Grand Parkway, would cut through the environmentally sensitive Katy prairie (pictured.)
But for now, after 23 years of construction, the final section of the city’s outer beltway, called the Sam Houston Tollway, will be complete come Saturday.
It’s the second road to circle Houston. The first was Loop 610, which was completed in 1976.
Alan Clark, the director of transportation and planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, says the final $400 million dollar section will serve the rapidly growing communities in Northeast Harris County. “It should shorten their travel time significantly," he said. "And by that I mean maybe twenty minutes, thirty minutes - it could be even longer.”
But critics argue that it induces suburban sprawl and doesn't fix congestion problems in Houston's denser, more populated areas.
Those arguments are getting even more heated around another concentric road that has only just begun its giant circle around Greater Houston.
It's called the Grand Parkway, and it would be the third road to ring around Houston. Some want it, some loathe it. It would be a massive 180-mile toll road encircling greater Houston, and it's been part of the city's planning since 1962. Less than thirty miles have been built so far, but 14 more could be added soon. That's because the Texas Department of Transportation recently announced that it expects to have the nearly half -billion dollars it needs to construct the next segment.
With Houston poised to gain 3.5 million people over the next thirty years, proponents of the road say it's a crucial part of the region's transportation system. Critics say the road is superfluous, arguing that the money should be spent to tackle existing congestion problems in places where more people live and commute. But opposition to the road heats up even more over this next segment -- known as "E" -- because it will cut through the environmentally sensitive Katy Prairie, west of Houston.
You can listen to the story - and see a slideshow - at KUHF.