Unable to build on it or sell it, the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority is recruiting local governments to form a group to convert 31 miles of abandoned railway into a pedestrian trail that would run from Eagle Lake, through Wallis, and across the Brazos River into Simonton and onto Fulshear.
Joey Kaspar, a senior planner with the Houston-Galveston Area Council, came before the Austin County Commissioners Court May 28 to inform the county about the plans and to seek the board’s blessing to have Commissioner Chip Reed join the local government corporation being formed to oversee the conversion.
“Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority owns the entire 31-mile right-of-way and it’s 100 feet wide and they have been very supportive of finding a lease with all the counties and cities that want to build this trail and just asked that we form a local government corporation so it’s one voice, one contract, one lease,” Kaspar said. “They’re willing to lease that right-of-way for 60 years if not more. They’ve told us they have no plans for the next 100 years to ever build on it.”
She said the local government corporation (LGC) would include representatives from the cities of Eagle Lake, Wallis, Simonton, Weston Lakes, and Fulshear, along with Colorado, Wharton, Austin, and Fort Bend counties.
“We’re trying to get someone from the Brazos River Authority, or that organization, to sit on it as well because there’s a major river crossing right there,” Kaspar said.
Reed, whose precinct is in the project area, said he is willing to be on the board. No action was required but Kaspar said she preferred to have the court’s approval to allow Reed to represent the county.
“What the LGC would do is raise funds for the eventual construction of the trail. So, nothing is coming out of county budgets, city budgets, for the construction of this trail or maintenance of it. They also will make the determination of how the trail will be built, what it will look like, how it will meander through the right-of-way,” Kaspar said. “There’s certain areas that will be problematic to have a pedestrian trail going across the river. It’s way too expensive. So, it will eventually come off of that rail right-of-way and probably onto a highway and then jog back on. Things like that is what this local government corporation would decide on and vote on.”
“It’s not costing us any money? Chip’s volunteered to sit on the board? Motion to stick Chip with it,” joked Commissioner Randy Reichardt.
Kaspar said the toll road authority is working with attorney Art Pertile of Olson and Olson, a firm that represents most of the cities involved, to draw up the bylaws and organization of the group.
“Any point in time Austin County decides they don’t want to be a part of this initiative anymore they can just step right out,” Kaspar said. “And you can re-join at any time and that’s definitely going into the bylaws so that there’s no long-term obligation if Austin County loses interest in it.”
She said the law prohibits structures from being built on abandoned railways, so the toll road authority sees this as a good use of the property since it does not have plans to build a road on it. She also said many of the cities are happy to have a productive use of the land.
“So, to them, this is a win-win. The local government corporation takes it over and builds this trail; it’s being maintained on their behalf. That’s their motivation in having this happen. And then all the communities that have an eyesore with overgrown trees and shrubs and stuff, they’re putting in a recreational amenity,” she said.