Montgomery County residents are calling it the most divisive political issue they have seen in a long time. But even with significant pushback from opponents, county officials are pressing forward with the countywide $350 million road bond. After countless blog posts, citizen testimonies at the commissioners court and city hall, protests, and even a bond forum, Montgomery County is choosing to weigh their odds with the bond by keeping the Woodlands Parkway Extension, or the “poison pill” as some call it, included in the proposal.

We originally reported on the Montgomery County Road Bond and the debate surrounding it when the bond steering committee announced the final package to the Commissioners Court. To recap, most of the controversy surrounds one project out of the 77 included in the bond: the Woodlands Parkway extension, which has stirred emotions all across the county. Most Woodlands residents, people directly impacted by the extension, stand firmly against the project. They attempted, to no avail, to get the Commissioners Court to remove the extension from the project list. Now, residents are vowing to defeat the bond because they feel county officials aren’t taking their concerns into consideration.

This is precisely why conservative reformers have advocated that large projects be put in separate ballot propositions, so that voters are not faced with all-or-nothing-proposals.

Woodlands residents oppose the extension because it will negatively impact the already traffic-burdened master-planned community. The extension’s route is currently planned to run directly through the heart of the township, bringing more cars that are looking for a shortcut from I-45 to Magnolia. Residents also feel that the Commissioners Court hasn’t been forthright with their true intentions for pushing through a project that has a 90% opposition rate in the community. While many publicly acknowledge the need for a road bond, they don’t believe this proposal is the solution.

Proponents argue that a long-term mobility plan is necessary, and with the growth rate of Montgomery County it would be foolish to not include this extension in the bond. Some supporters, such as Mary Hammer Menzel (a Harris County lobbyist), are using bizarre scare tactics, such as posting online videos saying that “the Lord supports the bond,” going as far as calling the opposition, “tools of Satan,” during a commissioner’s court opening prayer.

Last week Montgomery County Eagle Forum hosted a countywide forum for an open discussion including discussion on the parkway extension. The six-person panel consisted of three opponents and three proponents of the Woodlands project. Although Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal has publicly said he cannot take a pro or anti bond position because of the office he holds, he sat on the pro-parkway side of the panel. Doyal did cast a vote in favor of the package as-is.

Each panelist was given five minutes to advocate their case, with the rest of the time spent on direct questions from attendees. Nearly every question from the community carried an anti-parkway extension sentiment. When Judge Doyal charged that the county needed a long-term mobility plan, and it would be selfish of residents to kill this bond, Laura Fillault, an engineer and Woodlands resident, fired back, that “patchwork fixes do not equal mobility.” Former State Rep. Steve Toth, who also sat on the panel, noted that the passage of this bond would solidify Montgomery County’s spot at the top of the list of Texas counties with the highest debt.

With former steering committee member, Gordy Bunch’s online petition now surpassing 4,700 signatures, it is clear that opposition to the bond is not submitting to the demands of county officials who appear disinterested in listening.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.