Conroe native Jay Ross Martin says he never imagined his rural hometown in the piney woods developing bustling retail centers, a thriving housing market and a population that’s more than doubled in the past 20 years.
The change has catapulted Conroe, the county seat of Montgomery County, into a “new world,” says Martin, a former city councilman.
Increasingly, that new world is more like the city than the country.
This year the U.S. Census Bureau made it official by designating an area surrounding Conroe and The Woodlands as a “large urbanized transit area.” The designation, based on its population exceeding 200,000, makes the area eligible for federal transportation dollars.
Thirty-six new large urbanized areas were added to the Census Bureau list this year. Conroe-The Woodlands was the only new designation in the Houston region.
The population within the area, which extends north to Willis and south to Spring in unincorporated Montgomery County along the Interstate 45 corridor, increased to 240,000 in 2010, nearly triple the 1990 level.
“It’s an indication of large growth between The Woodlands and Conroe,” said Bruce Tough, president of The Woodlands Township, the governing body of The Woodlands. With the new Exxon Mobil campus planned just south of The Woodlands, he added, “we’re going to see a lot of energy and manufacturing companies coming to Montgomery County contributing to unprecedented growth. People better put on their seat belt.”
Traffic congestion is the most serious downside of growth, residents said.
More people now commute to work into The Woodlands than out of it, community leaders said. Travel time on major roads, such as Woodlands Parkway and Research Forest, has increased dramatically.
“I avoid going to the mall like the plague,” said Woodlands resident Tom Sadlowski. “It’s so crowded.”
Obligatory Yogi Berra Quote: “No one goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”
I think the issue of traffic congestion for these fast-growing areas is bigger than its boosters would like to admit, and merits more attention than these three little paragraphs at the end of an otherwise hagiographic story. Suburban development, with its one-way-in-and-out-of-subdivisions design and complete dependence on freeway access, is a recipe for congestion. There’s no easy way to deal with it, either – adding lanes only does you so much good if everyone is headed for the same on-ramp. I hope now that the Conroe/Woodlands large urbanized transit area is eligible for federal transportation dollars that they will give some thought to regional transportation solutions – buses, and if they’re really smart, commuter rail. That Houston-Galveston rail line that’s been in the works forever would be even more valuable as a Conroe-Galveston rail line. If they’re not thinking about it now, I guarantee they’ll regret it later.