Black family riding bikes
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The county commissioner behind a controversial bike lane project in Houston’s Third Ward is willing to pause the ongoing work and retool the plan – if the city increases its financial commitment by several million dollars.

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, in a Jan. 6 letter written to Houston City Council member Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and shared with Houston Public Media, said he is open to amending a $12.1 million road reconstruction project that calls for drainage improvements, wider sidewalks, the addition of bicycle lanes and the reduction of vehicular lanes on a stretch of Blodgett Street that runs alongside Texas Southern University.

Rodney Ellis seen here speaking at a Nov. 6, 2018 mural unveiling event in Houston’s Third Ward. Photo by Aswad Walker.

But because construction began nearly a year ago and the county already has paid more than $4 million for the work, according to Ellis, he said suspending and redesigning the project as requested by some concerned community members would add at least a year to its timeline while increasing the overall cost by at least $4 million.

So Ellis said he and the county would be willing to go down that road only if the city – which initially agreed to cover about $400,000 of the project total, with Ellis’ office covering the remainder – commits to splitting the overall cost evenly. That would up the city’s share to an estimated $8-$9 million, according to Ellis.

“Given that the city approved the current design and allowed construction to begin, it’s appropriate that the city share costs for pausing and redesigning,” Ellis wrote in his letter. “Under this option, we ask that the city secure these funds up front and work quickly to pass a renegotiated interlocal agreement as soon as possible.”

That is unlikely to happen, according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who was copied on Ellis’ letter. Turner said in a Tuesday afternoon statement to Houston Public Media that the city doesn’t have $8-$9 million to spend on the project.

“The project, already under construction, should move forward,” Turner said.

Ellis’ offer comes about one month after Evans-Shabazz, who represents the Third Ward as part of District D, held a townhall meeting in which some residents expressed concerns about the potential for increased traffic congestion and reduced street parking as well as the necessity of bike lanes. Some also said they were not adequately engaged about the initiative, which is part of a 2018 agreement between the city, county and historically Black university to make transportation and drainage improvements in the area.