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$766.5M SH 249 Extension Decreases Congestion and Increases Mobility Northwest of Houston

by: Julie Devine
Grading takes place during the early stages of the SH 249 Extension near Houston.
Grading takes place during the early stages of the SH 249 Extension near Houston.
To build the new $766.5 million State Highway (SH) 249 Extension project northwest of Houston, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) used multiple strategies to accelerate the work and provide faster relief for the area’s increasing population and economic growth. First, they divided the project into several parts in order to open the most critical section earlier. They also chose design-build delivery to provide more cost and schedule certainty.

After two-and-a-half years of construction, the project’s first section (labeled 1A) opened to the public in August 2020, extending SH 249 to the north. The next section (1B) opened in March 2021, and the final portion (Segment 2) is scheduled to open in late 2023.

Three substantial improvement needs prompted the project.

“First, the links between suburban communities and major and minor roadways were needed in this area,” said Emily Black, Public Information Officer for TxDOT’s Houston District. “Second, projected population and employment growth in the area will likely increase demand on the current transportation infrastructure. Finally, there are growing safety concerns regarding the impacts of increased congestion and emergency evacuation (notably for hurricane evacuation).”

Crossing through Montgomery and Grimes counties, the project will provide 26 miles of new roadway and supporting infrastructure (including 57 bridges) from Farm to Market (FM) 1774 in Pinehurst, Texas, to SH 105 near Navasota, Texas. The new highway is designed to improve mobility and travel conditions throughout the area by drawing some of the traffic from other congested roadways.

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Funding for the SH 249 extension came from a combination of federal, state, and local government sources and bond proceeds. A portion of the development of Segment 1 was also financed with toll revenue obligations issued by TxDOT. (Segment 2 in Grimes County will not be tolled.)

Getting It Done
After a competitive selection process, TxDOT selected Williams Brothers Construction Company, Inc., (WBCCI) of Houston as the best-value proposer. A lump-sum Design-Build Agreement (DBA) was executed in October 2017.

In addition, “Maintenance responsibilities will be shared between TxDOT and the design-build contractor pursuant to a five-year capital maintenance agreement with two-year and five-year extensions,” Black said.

TxDOT estimates the cost for Segment 1 at $486.4 million, with Segment 2 projected to cost $280.1 million. According to Black, those figures include the negotiated DBA price, utility relocation, right-of-way acquisition, tolling equipment and system integration, environmental mitigation, TxDOT administrative costs, and a reasonable project contingency.

Land clearing for Segment 1 began in December 2017 and construction started in early 2018. All of Segment 1 is now open. In Segment 2, construction began in fall 2018 and work on walls, bridges, drainage, and utility relocations is currently underway.

The project includes a 9 percent participation goal for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) firms. As of early spring 2021, more than 56 subcontractors were working on the project, with $79.3 million in contracts awarded to DBE firms.

Accelerated Phasing
TxDOT divided the project’s Segment 1 into two sections – 1A and 1B – to accelerate the completion of Section 1A.
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“This allows for a relief route from FM 1488 that increases mobility and improves congestion in the northwest Houston area,” Black said.

The 15-mile expanse of Segment 1 is constructed as a four-lane, controlled-access tollway. Existing roads around the SH 249 extension remain available to drivers free-of-charge.

Segment 1A extends 6.6 miles from FM 1774 in Pinehurst, Texas, to FM 1488 in Magnolia, Texas. Segment 1B stretches 8.4 miles from FM 1488 in Magnolia to FM 1774 north of Todd Mission in Plantersville, Texas. In addition to the four mainlanes, the corridor features auxiliary lanes, on- and off-ramps, detention ponds, and intermittent frontage roads within a typical 400-foot-wide right-of-way.

The 11-mile-long Segment 2 will provide a two-lane, non-tolled rural highway from FM 1774 north of Todd Mission in Plantersville to SH 105 between Plantersville and Navasota, Texas. To accommodate future widening to a four-lane, divided roadway, the typical right-of-way through Segment 2 is 400 feet wide, the same as Segment 1.

When finished, the SH 249 extension will provide a safe, reliable, aesthetically pleasing corridor for regional traffic, decreasing congestion and increasing mobility throughout the area.

Key Project Personnel
Owner’s Team:
  • Owner – Texas Department of Transportation; Matthew Connelly, Project Manager; Ronnie Becker, Deputy Project Manager
  • Program General Engineering Consultant – BGE, Inc., Houston; Hugh Yildirim, Project Manager; Jason Estridge, Deputy Project Manager
  • Owner’s Verification Inspection and Testing – SAM-CS, Inc., Houston; Doug Stephens, Project Manager; Paul Brodin, Deputy Project Manager
  • Owner’s Verification Design Review – Atkins North America, Inc., Houston; Rob Bailey, Project Manager; Phillip Williams, Deputy Project Manager
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Design-Build Contractor Team:

  • Design-Build Contractor – WBCCI, Houston; Hunter Lehrman, Project Manager; Osmel Perez, Deputy Project Manager; Elton Ward, Construction Manager
  • Design Firm – Parsons Transportation Group Inc., Houston; Mark Holcomb, Project Manager; AJ Widacki, Deputy Project Manager; Frank Liston, Design Lead
  • Independent Quality Firm – Raba Kistner, Inc., Houston; Bruce Nipp, Lead Quality Assurance Manager; Dale Martin, Lead Quality Firm Manager
  • Maintenance Firm – DBi Services, Houston; Paul Montgomery, Lead Maintenance Manager

Photos from TX SH 249 project website

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