Houston’s Grand Parkway Draws Interest From Developers

Houston HighwaysAfter more than two decades of construction, work on Houston’s Grand Parkway entered its final phase earlier this year. When the last section is completed in 2022, the 184-mile parkway will be the largest highway loop in the nation.

Since the idea for the parkway was first conceived in the 1960s, it has become one of the most ambitious infrastructure improvement projects ever undertaken in our region. And while the Grand Parkway was designed to accommodate increased traffic around the Greater Houston area, it could become a new corridor for residential and commercial development as well.

According to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, a number of companies are purchasing property near the parkway with the intent of developing new homes and businesses along its route.

“The Grand Parkway has just been a tremendous catalyst,” said Kirk Laguarta, a broker for Land Advisors Organization in an interview. “all along the Grand Parkway as soon as it was announced on the west side, you saw the activity of sales occurring, of people going out and buying sites, especially where the interchanges are. Those are very critical.”

Laguarta is quick to point out, however, that although interest from developers is strong, some of their efforts have been slowed by new regulatory requirements that were implemented in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

“all of the requirements are changing, which I think everyone would agree, needs to occur, but it’s getting the approvals now that’s taking longer.”

Despite these hurdles, many developers are confident that with enough patience, building along the Grand Parkway will ultimately prove to be a worthwhile investment. Stay tuned – you won’t have to look far to find new developments cropping up along the Grand Parkway in the coming years.

Phase One of the Hardy Toll Road Connector Project Is Well Underway

Road ConstructionWhen the Hardy Toll Road was built in the 1980s, it was originally intended to extend into downtown Houston. As a result of budgetary restraints, however, the plans had to be revised and the 21-mile toll road’s southern terminus was moved to the Interstate 610 North Loop. Now, roughly three decades later, construction crews are working on the 3.6-mile extension that will finally bring the toll road south to US 59.

The first phase of the Hardy Toll Road Downtown Connector project began in 2014 and is expected to conclude in 2020.

This phase involves relocating the Houston Belt and Terminal rail lines, as well as constructing three grade separations at Collingsworth, Lorraine and Quitman streets. Relocation of the rail lines is already complete, and extensive excavation work is currently being conducted at the Lorraine grade separation. The three grade separations are ultimately designed to eliminate the need for vehicles on the toll road extension to interact with train traffic.

Once the grade separations are finished, the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) will begin paving the new four-lane stretch of the Hardy Toll Road. The extension is being funded entirely by revenue generated through the existing tolls, and it’s expected to offer significant benefits to commuters.

“It will provide a new connection directly into the Central Business district from north Houston, relieving existing highways of some volume,” said Matt Kainer, assistant director of maintenance and construction engineering of the HCTRA in an interview. “Once the project is complete, both drivers and pedestrians will have safer, faster access through the corridor.”

There’s still plenty of work to be done, however. The Hardy Toll Road Downtown Connector is currently slated for completion in the first quarter of 2023.

New Houston Office Building Will Be a Model of Sustainable Design

Houston SkylineThe 47-story office building that will occupy the former site of the Houston Chronicle will be more than just an attractive new addition to the city’s skyline; it will also be one of the most energy-efficient and environmentally-sustainable buildings in the nation. Earlier this month, the developers of Texas Tower announced that the building has received Platinum pre-certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system.

This constitutes the highest available rating for energy efficiency and sustainable design.

“Texas Tower will be an excellent example of how we can achieve a sustainable, high-performance building that, as a result, operates at a lower comparative cost over time, benefiting tenants, owners and the environment alike,” said Clayton Ulrich,  Senior Vice President of Corporate Operations at Hines.

The one-million-square foot tower on the 800 block of Texas Avenue will be equipped with a variety of innovative features designed to minimize the structure’s carbon footprint over time. These include a rainwater and condensate recovery system, LED light fixtures with daylight control systems, reflective roofing materials, high-efficiency chillers and electric-vehicle charging stations for the building’s occupants. Texas Tower will also include flexible, customizable workspaces to optimize the building’s floorplan.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Texas Tower, however, will be its appearance from street level. The tower will be oriented diagonally on its site, offering stunning views of its glass façade to passersby from all sides. With 33 percent of the building already leased to its future tenants, Texas Tower is currently slated to open in late 2021.

2019 Will be a Big Year for Hotel, Retail Construction in Houston

Retail DevelopmentAs state and local officials continue to invest in flood control infrastructure developments and transit improvements, there’s another type of construction boom that’s poised to take off in Houston as well. According to commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), there is a virtually unprecedented amount of hotel and real estate space slated for construction in our area this year.

In their 2019 Construction Outlook report, JLL found that Houston currently ranks #1 in the nation for retail space under construction, and #5 in the nation for the number of hotel rooms that will open this year. More than 4,500 new hotel rooms are expected to welcome guests this year, which accounts for roughly 3 percent of all new lodging facilities in the country. Houston will also add an estimated 4.1 million square feet of retail space in 2019, which is the equivalent of more than 20 Walmart Supercenters.

Analysts at JLL attribute this huge volume of commercial construction to the steady, prolonged population growth that Houston has experienced in recent years.

“Houston has been one of the national leaders in population growth for a decade now, with over 100,000 people per year moving into the metropolitan area,” said Matthew Parson, senior vice president of JLL’s Houston office in a recent interview. “With the population growth and no true barriers restricting the expansion, suburban sprawl continues to expand suburban communities.”

Meanwhile, the Dallas-Fort Worth area ranked high on JLL’s list of hotel and retail construction leaders, too. Keep an eye out—you probably won’t have to look far to find spacious hotels and retail centers coming to a neighborhood near you in 2019.

Harris County to Launch Flood Tunnel Feasibility Study

Concrete TunnelA year and a half after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, Harris County officials continue to explore new ways to protect Houston and the surrounding communities from future catastrophic weather events. In February, for example, the Harris County Flood Control District was awarded a $320,000 federal grant to assess the feasibility of an ambitious plan that would involve digging deep underground tunnels to carry stormwater from upstream bayous to the Houston Ship Channel.

 

This study, which is expected to take about four months, will evaluate whether or not stormwater tunnels could serve as a viable addition to the area’s long-term flood control strategy.

“The study is basically to look at our ground conditions, including our groundwater table, and compare that to existing technology in the tunnel industry to see if there’s a match,” said Russ Pope, executive director of the flood control district in a recent interview. “If that’s true, then we can start looking at costs, routes and opportunities we can potentially pursue.”

Although Austin, Dallas and San Antonio have all successfully implemented stormwater tunnels into their own flood-control infrastructure, the unique soil conditions and topography of Houston could make it more difficult for engineers to design an effective tunnel system in our area. Preliminary plans involve digging 20-foot-wide tunnels 150 feet deep that would use gravity to move stormwater as far as 30 miles to the ship channel.

Despite the anticipated challenges that are associated with building stormwater tunnels underneath Houston, flood control district officials argue that tunneling could actually be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than widening bayous and channeling existing waterways with concrete. For now, however, we’ll just have to wait and see what the results of the feasibility study reveal.

Metro to Ask Voters for Transit Improvement Funding in November

Houston Metro Rail

With Houston continuing the grow at an unprecedented rate, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County is preparing to undertake an ambitious 20-year plan called METRONext that could dramatically improve our area’s public transportation infrastructure. Proposed improvements include the addition of 20 miles of light rail service, 75 miles of bus rapid transit and 110 miles of two-way HOV lanes on local freeways.

Last year, METRONext officials surveyed Harris County residents to find out what transit improvements they’d most like to see included in the 20-year plan.

Based on the feedback they received, they identified five key needs that the plan should address: “Increased connectivity within the system, quicker travel times, reliable and safe rides, enhanced customer service and advanced technologies.”

Now, after tailoring their plan to suit the most immediate needs of Houston-area residents, METRONext is preparing to ask voters for more than $3 billion in borrowing authority to kick start the first phase of transit improvements. The project is expected to cost a total of $7.5 billion, most of which will be provided by state and federal transportation funding.

Although $3 billion might seem like a steep price tag, Metro board officials have been quick to point out that this money won’t be borrowed all at once. Rather, it will be borrowed in increments based on the timelines of individual projects.

“This plan will change. There is no doubt about that,” said Metro board chairwoman Carrin Patman in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. “What we get back from the community governs how much we ask for.”

Voters will find this bond issue on the November 2019 ballot during the Houston Mayoral race. Until then, it will be up to METRONext to convince Harris County residents that their plan is a worthwhile investment.

The Grand Parkway’s Final Phase of Construction is Underway

Houston HighwaysFollowing decades of careful planning and construction, work on the last leg of Houston’s Grand Parkway has finally begun. Once this section is complete in 2022, the 184-mile Grand Parkway will become the largest highway loop in the nation.

The last phase of parkway construction will be divided into three segments, all of which will be worked on at the same time.

This section of the parkway will stretch more than 50 miles around the northeast corner of the Greater Houston area and pass through Chambers, Harris, Liberty and Montgomery counties. According to the Houston Chronicle, construction crews will also build “74 new or substantially reconstructed bridges” and move “nearly 25 million cubic feet of earth” during the project. It’s expected to take about four years and cost $1.28 billion to complete.

Construction on first segment of the Grand Parkway started in 1994, but planning for the massive highway loop began way back in the 1960s. The final phase of construction will be funded by bond sales and Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFA) loans.

According to the project’s description, this phase of the Grand Parkway’s construction will increase highway capacity by offering “a new tolled two-lane controlled access facility, with intermittent four lane sections for passing … four additional toll lanes from FM 1405 to SH 146 … and upgraded tolling equipment to the existing tolled four-lane facility from IH 10 East to FM 1405.”

Here at Texas Contractor’s Equipment, we’re thrilled to see this ambitious infrastructure project entering its home stretch after so many years of construction. To learn more about all the infrastructure development going on in our area, stay tuned for the latest updates from our blog!

Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston Lead the Nation in Homebuilding

Home ConstructionTexas welcomed more than 1,000 new residents a day in 2017, according the U.S Census Bureau, and construction crews are keeping plenty busy building homes for the state’s growing population. In October, housing market analysts Metrostudy Inc. found that Dallas-Fort Worth is leading the nation in homebuilding as of the third quarter of 2018, at a rate of nearly 35,000 single-family home starts per year. Meanwhile, Houston followed close behind in second place, with 29,370 home starts across a 12-month period.

Not only are Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston building more homes than any other metro area in the country, they’re also building even more homes than they were just a year ago. New home starts are up 8.7 percent in D-FW and 6 percent in Houston since last year, according to Dallas News. In their report, Metrostudy’s analysts also noted a shift toward more affordable housing construction in 2018.

“Over the past 12 months, builders and developers have been addressing the need for affordable new homes by developing in previously overlooked submarkets and building smaller, less amenitized homes, says Paige Shipp, regional director of Metrostudy’s D-FW market. “As such, the median price has dropped since last year.”

Although homebuying has slowed somewhat over the course of the past several months, Metrostudy’s analysts are quick to point out that this is probably a positive sign of market stabilization rather than overspeculation. In a housing market as hot as the ones in D-FW and Houston, a little slowdown is eventually inevitable.

Texas Construction Industry Exhibits Positive Signs of Growth

Texas ConstructionA persistent labor shortage has made it hard for many construction companies to keep their projects on schedule in recent years, but new data suggests that things are looking up for the construction industry in Texas.

According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas added 56,100 construction jobs in 2017—the most of any state in the nation.

These new jobs amount to a 7.9 percent year-over-year increase since 2016. With cities in Texas continuing to grow at an unprecedented rate and hurricane recovery efforts still underway, the Lone Star State can use all the help it can get to keep up with the demand for new construction. In addition to adding thousands of construction jobs last year, these positions are becoming more lucrative for workers.

In September, the Labor Department announced that average hourly earnings in the construction industry have passed $30 an hour for the first time.

This wage increase is due in large part to the rising demand for qualified construction workers across the state. The tight labor market may be putting employers in a pinch, but it has also had some residual benefits for workers. This unique confluence of economic conditions could offer new incentives for more young people to join the construction labor force as well.

At Texas Contractor’s Equipment Inc., we’re proud to support the construction companies in our area by providing them with custom ground engaging tools, attachments and ongoing product support. To learn more, feel free to give us a call or contact us online today!

Texas Is Producing More Oil Than Its Pipelines Can Handle

Oil PipelinesThanks to recent advancements in horizontal drilling and multistage fracking techniques, oil and natural gas production has steadily increased to unprecedented levels in the 90,000-square-mile Permian Basin of West Texas. Job seekers have are currently flocking to the region from all over the country, and the oil boom shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In January 2018, crude oil production in the Permian Basin hit a record 2.8 million barrels per day, making it the second-most productive oil field in the world. More recent estimates from the Energy Information Administration place Permian Basin oil production at close to 3.5 million barrels per day.

In fact, oil production in the Permian Basin has become so prolific that the region’s pipeline infrastructure is having trouble keeping up.

It’s been really a Renaissance for us, and as a result of that, we’re constrained by our oil and gas lines going to market—those lines are full now,” said Tommy Taylor, director of oil and gas development for Fasken Oil and Ranch in a recent interview.

Recently, this transportation bottleneck has begun driving oil prices down in the Permian Basin, causing concern and frustration among some oil company executives. The good news, however, is that several new pipelines are already under construction in the region. Earlier this month, for example, ONEOK of Tulsa, Oklahoma announced that it will invest close to $300 million to expand its West Texas LPG Limited Partnership pipeline system. Meanwhile, several other new pipelines are expected to become operational within the next two years as well.

In the long run, this pipeline shortage will likely to prove to be nothing more than a temporary roadblock in the ongoing growth of the Permian Basin oil field.