Transportation committee to finalize proposals

Increasing ridership on the Woodlands Express and addressing congestion in Town Center are top priorities for The Woodlands Township Ad Hoc Committee.

The committee is expected July 17 to finalize proposals it will undertake in the next two to three years. Those initiatives will be presented to The Woodlands Township Board of Directors for final approval.

Mike Bass, chairman of the transportation committee and a member of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors, said the committee has reviewed the transit study and prioritized projects “that make sense” and identified a timeline.

“In almost all areas it is going to require additional study and evaluation,” he said. “Some of the recommendations are not implementable the way they are.”

One key project is a transit center and system in the Town Center area. Bass said once people get to the area via transit, the township needs to have a plan to get those people from the transit garage to their destinations. He added the transit garage, located at the corner of Six Pines Drive and Lake Robbins Drive, is currently under design.

Late last year, the board of directors presented the transit plan to the public at its Nov. 5 meeting. The plan was compiled by the Houston-Galveston Area Council under the direction of The Woodlands Township. The purpose was to evaluate current modes of public transportation in the township and to Houston. The plan offered enhancements to help with congestion and mobility as the community continues to grow.

The plan, in total, carries a price tag of $13 million in capital and equipment costs with an additional $4.4 million in annual costs. Don Norrell, president and general manager for the township, said at that time that the plan was just a starting point for projects.

Another area of interest Bass noted was the Woodlands Express transporting people to the ExxonMobil campus just south of The Woodlands from Houston.

H-GAC suggested testing a reverse commute service focused on bringing commuters from Houston to The Woodlands, as well as exploring the possibility of forming a partnership with ExxonMobil to provide service to its new campus.

The specific suggestions were to expand services at the three park-and-rides to include stops in Midtown/Greenway Plaza and Uptown/Galleria, as well as adding later return services from stops in Houston.

In July last year, the township was awarded a grant from HGAC to purchase the 25 new buses for The Woodlands Express, the commuter transit system that provides weekday service from The Woodlands to destinations in Houston.

According to information from the township, the competitive grant, known as the HGAC Transit Fleet Expansion Program, will provide over $14 million in funding over three years. The township has committed approximately $3 million to the total as a local funding match and will continue to fund the operations and maintenance of the fleet through grant funds and user fees.

The cost of the township grant match is expected to be repaid over a four-year period using cost savings achieved through township bus ownership. The Woodlands Express previously was operated by the Brazos Transit District. As a result of the 2010 Census, the township became the direct recipient of FTA grant funding and assumed the responsibility for the park-and-ride operations. The township continues to contract with the BTD to provide day-to-day management and oversight of the park-and-ride service.

The lowest priority, Bass said, for the committee was implementing a general community wide transit system.

“I do not think there is currently much community support for such a system except how we might implement a more limited version of this idea to improve the mobility for disadvantaged people,” he said. “That goes beyond seniors and the disabled.”