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NW Houston: 200 MPH Bullet Train, a New Freeway Usher In Rapid Growth at US 290/Brookhollow

HOUSTON – Construction on Houston’s US 290 corridor is expected be completed by the end of next year, with some overpasses and connector ramps finished before 2017, according to a consultant involved with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT’s) massive 38-mile project.

Speaking at an event Tuesday organized by Bisnow – which calls itself North America’s largest platform for commercial real estate news, events and education — Mike Zientek, senior public involvement representative at infrastructure solutions provider HNTB for the US 290 program, added that TxDOT’s ultimate vision for the US 290 corridor involves the construction of the parallel Hempstead Tollway from I-610 to SH 99. “But there is not current funding for that roadway.”

Zientek noted HNTB has been involved with the US 290 program as the management consultant since 2006. The Bisnow program included an update on US 290 as well as the planned “bullet train” between Houston and Dallas. Holly Reed, Managing Director, External Affairs for Texas Central Partners and prospects for the area’s real estate sector — which are expected to be enhanced by the transportation infrastructure improvements.

When the bullet train is operational, it will take passengers 90 minutes to travel from Houston to Dallas, Reed told attendees.  “It’s the right project at the right time and it’s being developed the right way – privately,” she continued, adding that more than $75 million has been raised privately so far for the venture.

The economic affect will be substantial, she added, with the train construction creating 10,000 jobs during each year of construction and another 1,000 permanent jobs created when the train is up and running.  “There will be three stations, one in Northwest Houston along the 610 Loop between 290 and Interstate 10, one in Grimes County and the third in Dallas near the convention center,” she said.

Texas Central Partners plans to use the technology from Japan’s high speed bullet trains called Shinkansen that are operated by Japan Railways. “The Shinkansen has never had a crash,” she continued, “because it runs on two separate tracks and never intersects with a road. It is extremely reliable, arriving within one minute of the scheduled time.”

She stressed an additional point:  The project is a taxpayer, not a tax taker.  “We will pay taxes to cities, schools, and hospital districts.” Texas Central will not take federal grants for construction or subsidies for operation, she said.

Reed said federal officials are working on an Environmental Impact Statement and that will help determine the final route.

The completion of the US 290 work and the possibility of the bullet train mean only good things for the Northwest Houston/290 area said Alan Hassenflu co-founder, managing principal and CEO of Houston-based Fidelis Realty Partners, Ltd. Fidelis, in partnership with Williamsburg Enterprises, recently purchased the 24-acre Exxon Mobil Brookhollow campus at Highway 290 and Dacoma St.

One of the area’s strengths is its location and proximity to Houston’s major employment centers. In addition, he added, gentrification is improving public education in the area. “It has some excellent elementary schools,” he added.  “Oaks Forest is a fantastic elementary school.  But the middle and high schools are a challenge.”

A well-known advocate of continually improving education, Hassenflu noted that schools are the No. 1 reasons neighborhoods grow.  “We must continue to work to improve educational offerings,” he emphasized.

The area has significant industrial parcels, “and industrial and high end residential don’t mix all that well,” he continued.  “Those ugly ducklings can be transformed into a beautiful swan.”

Hassenflu said the former Exxon Mobil Brookhollow campus would be turned into a beautiful, dominant shopping center with construction possibly starting next year.

Michele Ellis-Felder, Managing Director at Gemini Rosemont, a commercial real estate firm that enjoys strong sponsorship from Gemini Investments, a Hong Kong Stock Exchange listed investment company, and Sino-Ocean Land, a major Hong Kong Stock Exchange listed real estate development firm, said tenants are showing increasing interest in the northwest area.

“The saying used to be that growth was going west, but now it’s coming to the core,” she explained.  “Millennials want to be within Loop 610 and that’s the direction residential developers are looking at now.  The location is great with close proximity to every major thoroughfare, and tenants are beginning to recognize that. We anticipate the market will continue to grow and the office space in this area is the best buy for your dollar.”

Kevin Wyatt, senior vice president at Lincoln Property Company agreed.  “This is where young people want to live, and young professionals can afford to live around here,” he said. “Mobility has been a problem, but it’s rapidly changing.  TxDOT is transforming US 290 from the worst freeway in the city to the best.”

Wyatt expects a paradigm shift in the area, with some possible new development in the future. “I live in Champions and I arrived there this morning in 30 minutes!” he said. “The location is terrific because it is close to the Galleria and the CBD.  People who live nearby in Garden Oaks or the Heights, or even out further northwest can get here quickly and won’t have to fight congestion and traffic.  They can then easily go to the CBD or the Galleria for meetings with clients.  This location has a tremendously bright future from the office building perspective.”

Added Hassenflu: “Everything starts with residential growth and the availability of housing. We couldn’t be more exited about the growth prospects here.”

July 14, 2016

Realty News Report is a Texas-based publication edited by Ralph Bivins.

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