Interstate Expansion to Go Ahead in Houston

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project, stalled by a federal investigation, will now go ahead with only a few tweaks that opponents say don’t go far enough to mitigate the damage it will cause to Houston neighborhoods.

2 minute read

March 16, 2023, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial view of freeways and downtown Houston skyline

Trong Nguyen / Houston, Texas

Another day, another twist in Houston’s infamous Interstate 45 expansion saga. As Kea Wilson explains in Streetsblog, “Last week, the Texas Department of Transportation announced that it had reached an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration to resume work on the $9-billion North Houston Highway Improvement Project, which will rebuild and expand the aging Interstate 45 and other highways throughout the Bayou City’s downtown core — and displace over a thousand residents and more than 300 businesses in predominantly BIPOC communities.”

Critics of the project are skeptical of the agency’s pledge to “evaluate the possibility of reducing the highway’s footprint where “reasonable” — which some advocates say means it’s unlikely to be reduced at all” and provide an ‘unspecified’ amount of funding for parks, bike facilities, and other local improvements.

Despite some grandstanding on the part of federal officials about the need to reevaluate our transportation system and road construction projects with equity in mind, Wilson writes that “Buttigieg and his colleagues don’t really have much of a say in whether bad highway projects go forward — because under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress guaranteed states the right to build pretty much whatever they want with the bill’s $110 billion in funding.” Steve Davis, associated vice president for transportation strategy at Transportation for America, says “Until something fundamentally changes with the program, highway expansions are going to continue to happen.” USDOT has the authority to require a calculation of induced demand, eliminate “value of time” metrics, and other ‘nudges’ toward more sustainable policies, but more changes at the state and federal levels are required to shift away from the highway expansion status quo.

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