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Montgomery County rejects its road bonds

One more election result of interest.

In a hard-fought election, Montgomery County voters went to the polls in record numbers to cast ballots that ultimately defeated the $350 million in proposed road bonds.

Nearly 58 percent of the more than 28,700 voters opposed the bonds that included the controversial extension of Woodlands Parkway that critics said would channel 6,000 additional motorists daily into the heart of this master-planned community and ruin its hometown ambiance.

This marks the second defeat of a road bond proposal in the last decade. In 2011, voters rejected a $200 million proposal that opponents said lacked a specific list of projects. The last bond proposal approved was $100 million in 2005.

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This bond defeat sends county commissioners scrambling back to the drawing boards to find a bond proposal that voters in one of the fastest-growing counties in the state can support. Traffic back-ups are only expected to worsen as the county’s population of a half-million is soon projected to outstrip all surrounding suburbs. Experts forecast the population will increase by 108,000 – equivalent to a community the size of The Woodlands – in just the next five years and then surge to over 2 million by 2035.

However, bond opponents such as Bunch and Texas Patriots PAC president Julie Turner believe commissioners can do a better job setting priorities for road improvements. They want them to eliminate some of the 77 proposed road projects like the Parkway extension and road repairs that they believe should be covered by the regular county budget and not done with borrowed bond money paid back over 30 years.

But bond supporters like Blair say the likelihood of commissioners coming back with a new revised bond proposal for November after two defeats is “very slim.” “Voters have shown they don’t want it. It makes me sad because we’ve gone a decade without any road bonds and the traffic is only getting worse,” she said.

Bunch, the lone member of the 11-member road bond committee to oppose the bond proposal, admitted County Judge Craig Doyal and others had threatened to significantly cut the amount of bond money allocated for The Woodlands in any revised bond package as they did not want to reward the opposition. The failed bond package had included $105 million for road improvements in the precinct that includes The Woodlands – 30 percent more than the other three precincts. The other three were to have received between $80 and $85 million each.

“I think that was a lot of pre-election posturing,” said Bunch.”They are going to get over it. They’re going to listen to the voters and make needed changes, They said we were a small group of loud people. But we’re no longer the silent majority. They need to listen to the people. We demand they put a bond proposal back on the ballot in November.”

Commissioner James Noack, who supported the bond package but was the lone commissioner opposing the Parkway extension, said this election “woke a sleeping giant” and the rest of commissioners court should listen,

Steve Toth, a former Texas representative opposing the bonds, said commissioners shuld take the $22 million allocated for extending Woodlands Parkway for six miles to Texas 249 and use to improve roads that really need it now. He wants the money applied to improvements on FM 1488 and others, rather on roads that go through areas where nobody now lives.

Meanwhile, several county commissioners, such as Jim Clark and Charlie Riley, said they weren’t likely to put a road bond proposal on the November ballot because there would already be a large school bond proposal from Conroe ISD on that ballot.

Commissioner Riley has also vowed to keep the extension project in any new revised bond proposal. “Nothing would be different,” said Riley, whose precinct includes the territory where the extension would be built. He said that he believes that he has the backing of other commissioners.

“I think this looks like another long year with no traffic improvements,” said Bruce Tough, who chairs The Woodlands Township. “Some of these groups are against government. But they demand more services and want taxes lowered at the same time.” The Township was split on the issue with three commissioners supporting the bond package, three others against and one taking no position.

There was a pre-election story that covered a lot of the same ground in this article. I have no position on the merits of this bond and didn’t follow the debate at all. I’m just amused by it all. We hear all the time about how we need to spend money to meet the transportation needs of fast-growth suburbs like Montgomery when the people who live there can’t agree on what those needs are themselves. Maybe the fourth time will be the charm, Montgomery. Good luck with that.

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