Commuters along the I-45 Corridor could have the opportunity to pay less than the going rate for a gallon of gas for a trip from The Woodlands to Sam Houston State University if the Houston-Galveston Area Council approves a Montgomery County transit plan later this month. A public park and ride shuttle service between the two cities offered at an estimated $2.00 to $4.00 per trip is included in the proposal and could be running in as little as two years.
“I’m excited about it,” B.J. Gaines, Walker County Commissioner and chair of the H-GAC Board of Directors, said. “I think it would help get traffic off the road. I think it would be good for the university and for both communities – The Woodlands and Huntsville – if we can get it to come here.”
The Montgomery County Transportation Taskforce (MCTT) developed the plan to expand public transportation options in Montgomery County and presented it to the public last month. Conceptual plans include seven roundtrips: two morning, two midday, two afternoon and one evening trip and operate 121 days during spring and fall semesters and 60 days during summer sessions. The route travels up I-45 and includes a brief stop at Montgomery College. A one-way trip is approximately 47 minutes.
If approved, the plan could add an additional fee for SHSU and Montgomery College students. Montgomery County has half of the funds needed to operate the estimated $6.2 million project, but matching funds contributed by towns, cities and institutions benefiting from the service are expected. At the university level, those funds often come from a transportation fee shouldered by the student population.
It is too early in the planning stage for SHSU officials to comment on how the shuttle service could affect student fees. Frank Krystyniak, Director of SHSU Public Relations, said the plan has not been proposed to the University, but added that SHSU supports any plan that would make it easier for students to attend college.
H-GAC is currently surveying public opinion of the plan before submitting it to the H-GAC transportation Committee for approval. Keri Hackett, program manager for the H-GAC Transportation Department said, “We haven’t gotten it down to any details on where it would start or stop. Some survey work is going on now. Before it’s implemented, it has to be approved.” For estimating purposes, the Montgomery Country Transit Plan places the park and ride point at Town Center in The Woodlands.
Steve Sumner, chair of the MCTT, said the plan holds economic appeal for south Montgomery County and Huntsville. In a survey to be published in the April edition of PA Times, Dr. Rina Majumdar, an assistant political science professor at SHSU, found 69 percent of about 3,400 SHSU students, faculty and staff would try public transportation if available. Participants listed saving money and easier access to employment as their main motivators. “It puts people where jobs are,” Sumner said. “There are a lot of professors and students that live in Conroe or The Woodlands and drive to Sam or to work at TDCJ. It gives them a way to get back and forth and it helps knock down air quality levels closer to the achievement level.”
Since 2003, the number of students that commute has risen 37 percent. Montgomery and Harris counties comprise almost half of the SHSU student population and 70 percent of faculty and staff commute as well. Part of the appeal for the University to endorse the plan is to reduce or eliminate future expenses involved in providing parking for these commuters. However, in spite of constant student complaints, SHSU has plenty of parking options according to Krystyniak. “We do not have a parking shortage,” Krystyniak said. “We have parking, it may not be convenient parking, but we do have it.”
H-GAC will be accepting public comments on their website, http://www.h-gac.com until April 18, 2008 and a link to the complete Montgomery County Transportation Plan is available as well.