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Excess money from Harris County toll roads to fund hikes, bike trails

Harris County's "Tollways to Trailways" project is aimed at creating 236 miles of bikeways and sidewalks.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County toll roads are the backbone of the Houston area and a shortcut for drivers who are willing to pay. 

The money helps to maintain toll roads but when there's a surplus, state code allows for extra toll money to cover transportation, highway or air quality projects within the region. 

"The community does not want just more concrete and more lanes. We have to be much more strategic," said Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. 

He has voted in favor of using surplus toll money to expand Harris County hike and bike trails. 

"Previous surveys have told us that millennials want to walk or bike to green space within 10 minutes of where they live," Garcia said. 

Harris County's "Tollways to Trailways" project is aimed at creating 236 miles of bikeways and sidewalks, connecting neighborhoods separated by tollways at a time when gas prices, population and traffic are rising. 

The first leg of the project costs $53 million. 

Harris County Commissioner Tom Ramsey is against it saying, "There are too many unknowns. Safety is my number one concern and I've not seen enough of the concept to confidentially say it's properly being addressed in these projects."

Commissioner Jack Cagle, who frequents the hike and bike trails in his own district, voted against the project too.

He believes it sets a bad precedent of diverting toll road money to projects not originally envisioned when toll roads were pitched to Harris County voters. 

Cagle wants the county's parks budget to cover additional trails. 

But Cagle and Ramsey were outnumbered in the most recent vote which happened Tuesday. 

With the first round of the project now approved, it will fall on county residents to voice their opinions over plans, which are expected to come soon. 

"This investment is absolutely going to project us into the status of being a much more contemporary community, which will attract more growth, which is what we want," Garcia said. 

Read more on the "Tollways to Trailways" project below:

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