LINK Houston, Residents Push Back on I-45 Expansion at City Hall
Residents of Near Northside, as well as Midtown, Fifth Ward, Montie Beach, and Independence Heights, joined LINK Houston, Air Alliance Houston, and other stakeholders for a press conference and public comments at the June 13 Houston City Council’s Transportation, Technology, and Infrastructure Committee (TTI) meeting.
From the steps of City Hall, Air Alliance Houston released its Health Impacts Assessment , which examined the health impacts of the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) on students and communities at nine of the 26 schools within the project’s corridor. Following opening remarks by Air Alliance Houston’s executive director Dr. Bakeyah Nelson, LINK Houston (a co-author of the study) and community leaders delivered a strong rebuke of the highway project. LINK Houston’s Executive Director Oni Blair said, “As TxDOT builds more roadway to accommodate cars, the communities adjacent to the proposed I-45 expansion – from Third Ward to Independence Heights to Greenspoint – feel the losses: the loss of land and history, loss of economic development opportunities, loss of 300 businesses and nearly 24,000 jobs, loss of more than 1,200 homes, loss of manageable water and drainage, and loss of safe neighborhood to neighborhood connectivity.”
Following the press conference, TxDOT’s Houston District Engineer Quincy Allen cited population growth and a need to make highway system upgrades as reasons for the $7 billion expansion project in the opening presentation at a special meeting of the TTI Committee on the NHHIP. The presentation brushed over multi-modal options, such as public transit, safe and accessible pedestrian and biking infrastructure – which are necessary to help us get to work, school, shopping, medical care – to instead focus on amenities like deck parks. These amenities are not included in the $7 billion price tag and would require private capital to come to fruition.
After Mr. Allen’s presentation, Central Houston President and CEO Bob Eury offered several “civic opportunities,” including “opportunities for a whole system of connected parks, public spaces, bridges with significant benefits to the [Downtown] community.” Eury presented renderings depicting an urban greenbelt that, according to his estimates, could attract between $5 billion and $9 billion in economic development for Downtown.
Unfortunately, those significant benefits don’t extend beyond Downtown. Emphasizing the stark contrast between the potential $9 billion in economic development for Downtown and the losses projected for the Black and Latino communities, Ms. Blair made clear to the City Councilmembers and TxDOT officials, “What concerns us as a group is inequity.” Infrastructure projects of this magnitude displace residents and divide communities from one another, their cultural heritage, and resources. “This is the defining project in the city of Houston for the next 20 years,” said Michael Skelly during the press conference. “Doing it properly means minimizing impacts and…, mitigating them properly.”
In the public comments that ensued, advocate after advocate, pleaded with TTI Committee members and TxDOT officials, about severe impacts the NHHIP poses to communities north of Downtown, including economic development, displacement, flooding, mobility and safety, air quality, and connectivity. Although TxDOT is near the end of finalizing its environmental impact statement, a federal rule for infrastructure projects, there are still opportunities to voice concerns and influence local decision-makers who have capacity to shape the project.
The City of Houston and TxDOT will host a public meeting on June 26 to present on the project. We encourage you to attend, share your opinions, and ask questions. For meeting details, please see here .
For news coverage and opinion pieces related to the NHHIP, take a look at the links below.