The multimillion-dollar Highway 288 toll lane project scheduled to be operational this month is still at least three months away from opening, officials said.
Weather delays are the predominant cause of the delays, said Raynee Edwards, a public information coordinator for the Blueridge Transportation Group, developer of the Harris County section of the project.
Since construction began more than two years ago, Brazoria County’s shorter stretch has been closer to the completion timeline, but until all 15 miles of highway from CR 56 in Brazoria County to Highway 59 in Harris County are complete, none of the new road can be used, Edwards said.
“The Brazoria County and Harris County portions of the expressway are dependent on each other,” said Danny Perez, a public information officer for the Texas Department of Transportation. “You can’t open just one portion without opening the other.”
Most people do not realize the new toll lanes are two separate projects, both in terms of funding and construction management, Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta said. The Brazoria County tollway is only a few weeks, if not a month behind, and will be done before Harris County’s section is ready to open, he said.
“Our contractor, Pulice Construction Inc., is scheduled to complete the job mid-September and we’re probably going to slide a little bit, but we should be done sometime in October,” Sebesta said.
Completion of Harris County’s 10.3 miles isn’t too far off, and the full expressway should open in either late November or December, Edwards said.
“We are looking at late this year — I do not have an exact date — but late fall, early winter is our time frame,” Edwards said.
The Brazoria County Expressway is expected to relieve congestion and make certain residential areas and businesses along Highway 288 are more accessible, including important access points to medical centers, Sebesta said.
Edwards said a rainy spring is a factor into pushing the opening date back for the Harris County portion.
“Earlier this year, we had a lot of rain delays,” Edwards said. “One day of rain can create several days of delays. We are moving as quickly as possible and it is our best interest to open the tollway as soon as possible.”
Replacing eight connectors along Interstate 610 while demolishing the old ones is “a process in and of itself,” causing more delays, she said.
“Just beyond the Beltway we tie into Brazoria County, and if you would travel north, you would see we have all but two connectors done,” Edwards said. “People are traveling on connectors at the interchange at Interstate 610, but we’re building new connectors and demolishing old connectors at the same time.”
The project’s builders are working on the connectors in the medical center area, Edwards said.
The total cost of the Brazoria County Expressway is close to $98 million, Sebesta said. Twenty million dollars of that is being funded by the Texas Department of Transportation while $2 million is from the management district for aesthetic improvements, he said.
The Harris County portion has an $800 million price tag.
When complete, four toll lanes — two northbound and two southbound — will stretch roughly from Manvel to the Highway 59 intersections in Harris County. The existing lanes will remain open to drivers not wishing to pay tolls.
Sebesta said he’s been involved with the tollway design plans and project since 2007 and will be happy when it’s finally completed.
“We’re gonna press our contractor so that they’re done as quickly as possible,” Sebesta said. “Folks are tired of construction, it’s been somewhat of a painful project, but people will see definite relief.”