With construction nearing completion on University Boulevard’s expansion from Texas Highway 6 to U.S. Highway 90A, Sugar Land is preparing for the next phase of the roadway’s extension, taking it north over the Union Pacific (UP) railroad tracks and Oyster Creek to Stadium Drive, alongside Constellation Field.
The city signed a $1.18 million contract earlier this month with engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam (LAN) to design the four-lane, divided north-south connector. With construction anticipated to commence in July 2015, the project will extend University northward from the U.S. 90A intersection, along the west edge of the Nalco Champion Property and up into the Imperial Development. The route then takes a bridge over Oyster Creek and Nalco’s railroad spur, eventually merging with Stadium Drive.
In its final phase, the Nalco rail spur that loops around the area is to be relocated away from University. The project is currently scheduled for a March 2016 date of completion.
“The roadway will allow better access from north Sugar Land to south of U.S. 90A and relieve traffic on other north/south streets,” said LAN Senior Planning Manager David Manuel, whose firm authored Sugar Land’s Master Thoroughfare Plan in 2012. “It will also provide a key crossing for the city over the Union Pacific Railroad and access to the baseball stadium, Nalco Chemical and other surrounding development.”
As per the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, the road will be lined by a 10-foot side path on the east and a six-foot sidewalk to the west.
Work to be done during the project’s design phase consists in part of right-of-way permit acquisition from UP and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), coordinating drainage improvements with Nalco and the Imperial Development, pavement design, a traffic control plan and construction cost estimates.
The construction budget will not be finalized until the rail spur relocation design is completed, and the construction limits are established. However, Assistant City Engineer Eliana Hayes listed several funding sources other than the city for the project, including Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) No. 3 and the Imperial Redevelopment District, as well as funds from the county’s 2013 bond election.
Potentially, Hayes said, the city could share construction costs with Imperial.
“Right now, we are in talks with the developer,” Hayes said. “The possibility exists of the city constructing everything that ties into TxDOT and UP, with … the developer completing the rest of the segment.”
The roadway project is the final piece of University Boulevard, a major corridor whose need was first identified in the city’s 1994 Major Roadway Plan. Since the 2003 opening of its first segment from Commonwealth to the Southwest Freeway, the “University Loop” currently runs about 10 miles; south from the Sam’s Club at Highway 6 through the Telfair/New Territory area, then east through the Riverstone community, transitioning into FM 1092 when it meets Highway 6 again in Missouri City.
The boulevard has played a large part in Sugar Land’s post-2000 expansion. Besides the University of Houston Sugar Land campus for which it’s named, University Boulevard has spurred on the development of the Riverstone, Telfair and New Territory master-planned communities, brought in a number of businesses and, once the Sugar Land Performing Arts Center opens, will serve as the location for a 6,500-seat entertainment venue.
Councilmember Steve Porter, whose district the University extension will run through, said area citizens have long been adamant about the road segment’s importance to their community.
“As the Imperial property continues to develop, those neighborhoods to the west and to the south down Brooks [Street] are very supportive of getting this done,” Porter said. “We’ve been kind of waiting for five or six years to have the money to do this, and I’m a very big supporter of moving forward.”