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TxDOT Approves I-45 Widening Despite Local Opposition

Despite every manner of local opposition, the Texas Department of Transportation is pushing forward with a plan to widen Interstate 45 north of the city of Houston, demolishing and displacing thousands of homes, businesses, and community facilities.
February 7, 2021, 11am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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I-45 and I-69
Trong Nguyen

"Texas highway officials Thursday gave themselves the green light to rebuild Interstate 45 in Houston, a crucial step in the process, despite lingering concerns from critics that the proposed $7.5 billion widening project is out of step with the region's future needs," report Dug Begley in a paywalled article for the Houston Chronicle.

Specifically, TxDOT issues a record of decision that "signals that the project has completed its federally required environmental impact studies" and "allows for more advanced design work to get underway," according to a separate (not paywalled) article by Emma Whalen.

The North Houston Highway Project would cut a large swath through the city. Begley summarizes: "1,100 homes — most of them apartments and public housing — and more than 340 businesses, five churches and two schools, along with dozens of other properties, will be displaced or affected by the freeway rebuild as currently proposed."

Begley collected numerous statements from local elected officials and advocates reacting in opposition to the decision. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, for example, expressed disappointment in the decision. "It displaces vulnerable people unnecessarily, won’t mitigate traffic over the long term, and ignores the need for meaningful investments in smarter transit solutions," said Hidalgo in a statement quoted by Begley.

Whalen's article includes a quote from TxDOT Houston District Engineer Eliza Paul saying that the project will continue community engagement as it continues into the next phase of development.

Advocacy organizations like Stop TxDOT I-45 and the Make I-45 Better Coalition also responded.

"We are not surprised by TxDOT's insistence on moving forward with their version of the [North Highway Improvement Project], despite their continued failure to address any of the concerns raised by the City of Houston, Harris County, or the overwhelming number of community members who weighed in on the Final Environmental Impact Statement," a statement from Stop TxDOT I-45 read. "Issuing the Record of Decision in the face of mounting issues over the project is just one more example of TxDOT's unwillingness to operate transparently or earn community trust."

For more background on the project and the controversy it has inspired, especially with regard to the communities of color it will impact, see previous coverage of the project on Planetizen, which spans back to 2015.

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Published on Thursday, February 4, 2021 in Houston Chronicle
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