A Freeway Rebellion Rises in the Unlikeliest of States: Texas

“There’s no train, there’s no bus, there’s no anything that supports mass transportation. It doesn’t exist.” -Houston resident Fabian Ramirez.

2 minute read

May 2, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

I-45 and I-69

Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock

“Texas, with its wide-laned roads and supersized highways, seems like an unlikely place for a rebellion against the supremacy of American car culture.”

So begins a feature-length Guardian article by Oliver Milman that flips the script about Texas as a potential location for a freeway rebellion. According to Milman, “last week a band of residents from across Texas descended upon the state’s department of transportation (DoT) to voice fury over new highway expansions that are set to displace thousands of people and raze hundreds of businesses, schools and churches.”

At the center of the growing rebellion are plans to expand Interstate 45 in Houston, a project known officially as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, which we at Planetizen have been documenting since 2015.

According to Milman, however, the I-45 widening plan is only one sign of a growing resistance to car-centric planning in the state of Texas. The resistance is being led by local governments, the status quo of automobile dependency, by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

“San Antonio planned to narrow a two-mile stretch of Broadway Avenue, a key thoroughfare, and add protected bike lanes, only for Texas DoT to overrule the city in January to halt it, citing fears over worsened traffic congestion, reports Milman for one example. For more, Milman writes: “Beyond the highway expansion in Houston, Texas is upsizing major roadways that carve through Austin and El Paso, as well as eliminating the planned bike lanes and pedestrian crossings in San Antonio.”

Like in the recent example provided by Republican legislators in Wisconsin, Milman suggests that the state funding made available by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is fueling the car-centric fire. “While some states, such as California, have started to recognize studies that show if you sow more asphalt you simply reap more traffic, Texas is pushing ahead with an unprecedented blitz of new road space for cars.”

“In Texas, the mandate for the supremacy of roads comes via the state constitution, which requires that highways are funded to the exclusion of almost anything else that moves people around. About 97% of the $30bn a year the state gives its transportation department is spent on highways, leaving very little for buses, trains or bicycles,” adds Milman.

The resistance is saying the concrete has finally gone to far—displacing low-income and communities of color, killing too many pedestrians and drivers, and creating too many greenhouse gas emissions and public health-impacting air pollution.

How is it that a grassroots rebellion has risen up against the Goliath status quo of car-centric planning in the state of Texas? Click through at the link below for a lot more detail.

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