Sam Houston Tollway / Parkway is a 87.84 mile long beltway encircling Houston. Operated jointly by the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the tolled portion uses all electronic toll collection (AET) while the toll free section runs between Ella Boulevard, west of IH 45, and Mesa Drive, east of IH 69, on the north side of Houston. Also maintained by TxDOT, Beltway 8 constitutes the frontage road system for the entire loop.1
First envisioned by city of Houston planners in 1952,2 funding for construction of Sam Houston Tollway was the result of a $900 million bond vote for Harris County passed in September 1983. Prior to the establishment of the HCTRA in 1983, only a few segments of the beltway frontage road system were built in the 1970s.2 Split in three phases, the 28.5 mile long Sam Houston Tollway project cost $512 million. The first section opened 8.6 miles from U.S. 59 (Southwest Freeway) to IH 10 (Katy Freeway) on June 28, 1988.3 The succeeding 6.3 mile segment north from IH 10 to U.S. 290 (Northwest Freeway) followed on June 24, 1989.4 This section closed temporarily on July 15 for Road Party, an official opening event and concert headlined by the Bangles.5 Opening of the third portion, the 12.5 mile stretch of the toll road from the Northwest Freeway to IH 45 (North Freeway), was preceded by Road Party II, an extravaganza that took place on the roadway on July 7, 1990. Free concerts performed by Huey Lewis and the News, and Jerry Lightfoot and the Essential Blues Band accompanied a skydiving exhibition and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The toll road was cleared for traffic the following day.6
Remaining portions of Beltway 8, the East Belt and South Belt, were under the jurisdiction of the Texas Turnpike Authority. This included the Jesse H. Jones Memorial Bridge, which opened on May 6, 1982 across the Houston Ship Channel.2 Maintenance of the span, which HCTRA renamed the Sam Houston Tollway Ship Channel Bridge,7 and the responsibility for building the remaining sections of Sam Houston Parkway / Tollway were transferred to the Harris County Toll Road Authority in 1994. $82.2 million in construction outlined building a nine mile section of the East Belt from SH 225 to SH 3 between Summer 1994 and a ribbon cutting held on July 1, 1996.1,8 This section would tie into a preexisting section connecting SH 3 with IH 45 (Gulf Freeway) built by the state. Work here to July 1996 added flyovers between the freeway and tollway.1
Work on the 21 mile long South Belt, extending west from the Gulf Freeway to IH 69/U.S. 59 (Southwest Freeway) broke ground on June 14, 1995. The $219 million section was scheduled to open in two phases, with the first six miles completed by 1998.9 HCTRA held a ribbon cutting ceremony for a ten mile section of the South Belt between SH 288 and IH 45 (Gulf Freeway) on March 17, 1997. Construction through Fall 1997 continued on the flyovers linking IH 45 with Sam Houston Tollway westbound.10
The last 11 miles of the South Belt, west from SH 288 to the Southwest Freeway, opened ahead of schedule on May 4, 1997.7 HCTRA and KKBQ radio sponsored Road Party III, a celebration at Tom Bass Park for the opening of this section of the Sam Houston Tollway. A free concert with performances by Mindy McCready and Tim McGraw took place at the event held on May 3.11
The northeastern quadrant of the Sam Houston Tollway remained incomplete, with traffic utilizing the Beltway 8 frontage road system for another decade plus. HCTRA eventually constructed the missing link as an AET roadway. Running southeast from IH 69/U.S. 59 (Eastex Freeway) to a point just south of U.S. 90 (Crosby Freeway), the $400 million, six-lane roadway opened at 5 AM on February 26, 2011.2 Design work for the 13 mile segment was finished in April 2009, and construction commenced in July 2009.12
Sam Houston Tollway / Parkway Guides
- North Sam Houston Tollway / Parkway - Outer Loop
- West Sam Houston Tollway - Outer Loop
- South Sam Houston Tollway - Outer Loop
- East Sam Houston Tollway - Outer Loop
- "Gearing up for the tollway/Good news, advice greet Sam Houston users." Houston Chronicle (TX), June 17, 1996.
- "Beltway Finally Comes Full Circle Six decades after its inception, city's outer loop sees last section opening Saturday BELTWAY: Developments drive demand for road." Houston Chronicle (TX), February 21, 2011.
- "As toll roads open, officials look for drivers." Houston Chronicle (TX), June 27, 1988.
- "Tollway to open with bang." Houston Chronicle (TX), June 23, 1989.
- "25,000 celebrate toll road opening - Bangles perform for crowd." Houston Chronicle (TX), July 16, 1989.
- "Huey Lewis to star at free Road Party II." Houston Chronicle (TX), July 6, 1990.
- "What a long, strange trip it has been/Final leg of tollway to open airport route." Houston Chronicle (TX), May 2, 1997.
- "County makes deal to acquire troubled Jones toll bridge." Houston Chronicle (TX), December 16, 1993.
- "Work begins on final part of tollway." Houston Chronicle (TX), June 15, 1995.
- "Toll road opens today." Houston Chronicle (TX), March 17, 1997.
- "No toll for the music." Houston Chronicle (TX), May 2, 1997.
- "Northeast section of Beltway 8 opens Feb. 26." Houston Chronicle (TX), February 24, 2011.
Page Updated 07-25-2019.