Dig It: District Grows Trail Network

In emerging subdivisions or master-planned communities, it’s relatively easy to develop a park or design a winding trail for residents. In an area with precious little undeveloped land such as Westchase District, shoehorning in outdoor amenities among existing structures can prove a challenge. However, by the end of this year Westchase District will feature nearly four miles of off-street trails for joggers, walkers and bicyclists.

This spring Westchase District broke ground on Brays Bayou Connector Trail (BBCT), a new 1.92-mile off-street trail that will run south from Richmond Avenue to Bellaire Boulevard. The 8-to 10-foot concrete path will include benches, water fountains, trash receptacles, landscaping, wildflowers, tree groves and a four-piece workout station.

Building Connections

The most exciting thing about the trail is its connectivity to a larger system, according to Irma Sanchez, vice of projects for Westchase District. “This trail will connect to the City of Houston’s on-street bikeway network at each roadway intersection and to the Westchase Park & Ride on Harwin,” said Sanchez.

The direct trail connection to this METRO facility will enable trail users access to METRO’s bus route 151 (Westpark Express), which travels to downtown. Across the street from the park and ride, BBCT will connect to the 8-acre, city-owned Harwin Park and the 81-acre, county-owned Arthur Storey Park, as well as the future Brays Bayou Trail.

On the north end, the BBCT will connect at Richmond to the District’s existing Library Loop Trail., which loops east and west between the Robinson – Westchase Neighborhood Library, 3223 Wilcrest Drive, and the Deborah Sue Schatz United States Post Office, 2909 Rogerdale Road.

Underpass access

The new trail will feature underpasses at Richmond, Westpark Drive, Westpark Tollway, Harwin Drive and Bellaire Boulevard, allowing trail users to safely enjoy the trail entirely off-street. “We’re lowering the existing corrugated steel storm outlets and encasing them in square concrete box culverts to create the street underpasses,” said Irma Sanchez, vice president of projects for Westchase District. “This way they become a seamless part of the trail and users can travel right over the tops of them.” Sanchez estimates this portion of the project will run about $648,000.

Construction of the BBCT will cost about $4 million and is being funded with a grant from the Federal Transit Agency and dollars from the 380 Area Agreement between Westchase District and the City of Houston, which provides money from property tax revenue increases to finance public infrastructure projects.

“This project is an amazing opportunity to partner with the District,” said Gwen Tillotson, deputy director of economic development for the City of Houston. “Westchase is phenomenal at leveraging money from various sources to achieve their desired projects. This trail is a great example of that.”

Partnerships Net Progress

Another significant trail partner is the Harris County Flood Control District, which had to approve all the plans for the trail. “Our first mission is storm water drainage,” said Sandra Musgrove, HCFCD infrastructure division director. “Properly designed trails support that mission, while adding visibility and enhanced security along our bayous.”

Still more trail partners exist in the form of landowners who gave the District recreational easements to build on their property, which is immediately adjacent to the canals.

“Our congregation saw it as an opportunity to be of service to the District,” said Dr. Ed Montgomery, founder and pastor of Abundant Life Cathedral, whose property touches BBCT north of Harwin. “The trail is a way to promote healthy living and family interactions and I feel it will help to change the environment of our community.”

The trail construction should be complete this fall.  “We’ve had some rain delays, but overall construction is good so far,” said Enrique Allende, project engineer with Miranda Construction, the contractor responsible for building BBCT. “The biggest challenge is working in tight spaces along the channel. Fitting our equipment in and having to work is tricky, but the property owners whose land backs up to the trail have been great about accommodating us.”

Power Walk

Another owner working with Westchase District is CenterPoint Energy, which allowed the District to maximize the wide swath of greenspace along the transmission corridor running north and south between Westheimer to Richmond. Through an agreement with CenterPoint, the District will begin construction soon on a trail that will connect to the Houston Community College campus at Westheimer and Hayes Road, with a mid-block crossing at Meadowglen Lane. The trail is an example of a larger effort between CenterPoint and the City of Houston to enhance the use of some 500 miles of transmission corridors crisscrossing the city.

“While the trail itself is pretty basic, we’re looking at adding landscaping and benches to some open spaces just off the trail,” said Sanchez. “It will be yet another outdoor amenity that will help enlarge our trail network and enhance walkability in Westchase District.” She added that the trail will cost about $600,000, is paid for with funds from the 380 Area Agreement and a federal grant, and should be completed by the end of the year.