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Fasten Your Seatbelt: New Toll Road Opening Up Northeast Houston

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Developers in Northeast Houston will get a significant boost from the opening of the new section of the Sam Houston Tollway in late February.

The northeast side has grown steadily over the years, but never really caught fire with high-velocity new development. The new tollway expansion may be enough to finally ignite a conflagration of home building and development retail and commercial space.

“The proximity to the tollway will pay off,” said veteran Houston land broker Stan Creech. “More will happen out there in the next five years than has happen in the last 25 years.”

The 13-mile toll road will run from near Bush Intercontinental Airport at U.S. Highway 59 to the east and loop to the southeast to connect at U.S. Highway 90.

It means vast amounts of land to the northeast of Houston will have greatly improved auto access to downtown Houston, the airport and virtually every part of the city, including the Port of Houston.

Master-planned communities have churned along in the northeast for years. Atascocita, Fall Creek, Eagle Springs, Park Lakes and Summerwood have had respectable home sales over the years, but not the best in the Houston market. The question is now whether the toll road can elevate the northeast area to something that rivals best-sellers like The Woodlands or Cinco Ranch area in Katy.

The toll road will eliminate several stop lights and make the 1,500-acre Summerwood an easier commute, said Kayla Webb, marketing director for Newland Communities, developer of Summerwood.

“Since Summerwood opened, we have conducted several drive-time studies which have confirmed that Summerwood offers one of the quickest commutes to downtown Houston,” Webb said. “With this toll road expansion project, we believe that the new seamless commute will offer a significant time reduction for residents.”

The Sam Houston Tollway is an outer loop that was put on the drawing boards in 1952. Almost 60 years later, it is now complete – an 88-mile ring that has enabled developers to build on what was mostly inaccessible coastal prairie.

The toll road is not magic gold dust. New roads do not equate to instant growth. In some places, the toll road is still surrounded by vacant land that will like be untouched for decades.

In no place has the toll road had a greater impact than in west Houston, where the roadway was completed in 1988 to connect the Southwest Freeway and the Katy Freeway. Office buildings, hotels and retail centers line the western toll way and more construction has been announced, even during the recent economic downturn.

Creech believes a small section of the western toll road – running from the Katy Freeway down to Westheimer Road – is the crème de la crème of roadway-inspired development.

“That is the sweet spot,” said Creech.  “Today that is still the most accessible area in Houston.”

But it is not easy to change the development pattern of a city. The southern part of Houston, including Pearland, along the Highway 288 corridor, went untouched for years even though developers were touting its 15-minute easy commute to the Texas Medical Center. But after lying dormant for decades, Pearland took off with the help of a near road called Highway 288.

With the opening of the northeast segment, the completion of the loop road around the city will benefit many parts of the local real estate market, even if the surge to the northeast takes years to materialize.

“The new stretch of toll road completes the loop and that increases traffic circulation and it will certainly have a positive impact on all real estate, but particularly on the northeast since that was the segment that was missing,” Creech said.

The toll road expansion could be a dud – a wet fuse on a limp time bomb. But with the housing market projected for improvement in 2012 and vastly improved roadway access, the time for Northeast Houston to boom may be closer than we think.

Ralph Bivins

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Ralph has written 12 articles for the Houston Real Estate Observer.
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Ralph Bivins is a veteran real estate journalist with extensive experience writing about the industry. He writes for a number of national and regional publications and has been ranked as one of the most popular bloggers in Texas. To learn more about Ralph, visit the Realty News Report website.

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