Texas House Administration Committee
Hearing on Texas House Bill 2306
Monday, April 1, 2019
Remarks as prepared by Ines Sigel, Director of Communications and Outreach at LINK Houston
Good afternoon Chair Geren and Members of the House Administration Committee.
My name is Ines Sigel, and I represent LINK Houston. LINK Houston is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that advocates for a robust and equitable transportation network so that all people can reach opportunity.
We envision a world in which all people in Houston can easily access not only jobs, but also educational experiences, medical appointments, grocery stores, greenspace, and other important destinations, regardless of their mode of transportation. To make that vision a reality, we support transformative and inclusive policies, systems, initiatives, and infrastructure development that connect people to opportunity by transit, walking, and biking. We move ideas into action through community engagement, research, and shaping public policy. Through our advocacy activities we specifically aim to improve the accessibility, frequency, reliability and availability of the public transit network; expand safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure; and mitigate adverse impacts of transportation infrastructure.
Today, I am here in support of House Bill 2306 [introduced by TX Rep Rosenthal]. This bill would strengthen how Texas incorporates the consideration of health impacts into transportation planning.
LINK Houston believes that incorporating health impact assessment strategies into transportation planning will help address the effects of infrastructure development on air quality, mobility, flooding, and other quality of life concerns for communities immediately adjacent to highways.
Road safety has a direct impact on health. Crashes on highways cause hundreds of fatalities and thousands of serious injuries of people driving, as well as people walking and biking where the highway interfaces with urban or rural roads. According to TXDOT’s Texas Peace Officer’s Crash Report, there were 1,549 fatalities on U.S. and state highways in the State of Texas in 2017. This almost equals the homicide rate, which the Center for Disease Control’s most recent figures put at 1,669 for the State of Texas for 2016.
This level of fatalities and serious injuries constitutes a safety crisis and a health crisis for people driving on our highways and anyone in their path, including people walking and biking. In LINK Houston’s analysis of the Texas Department of Transportation’s 2013-2017 crash information records, we found that 4 of the 10 most dangerous intersections in Houston are at or near the exit of highways. When we further investigated these locations, we found people walking and biking where the highway interfaces with urban streets in a dangerous attempt to reach a destination on the other side.
In the near term, the health impacts assessment described in House Bill 2306 could significantly impact the Texas Department of Transportation’s planning for future highway infrastructure development, as well as current projects such as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project. The NHHIP or I-45 North expansion would extend from Downtown north for 25 miles towards the Bush Airport. We are concerned with the adverse impacts, including the adverse health impacts, especially on disadvantaged communities and communities of color surrounding TxDOT’s proposed highway expansion.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the NHHIP acknowledges that the proposed project will cause “disproportionate and highly adverse impacts to minority or low-income populations.” These adverse impacts, if left unmitigated or with minimal mitigation, will lead to unsafe mobility at places where the highway interfaces the urban streets, furthering the injury or fatality risk I described earlier. This is in addition to the anticipated air quality impacts, the noise quality impacts (which LINK Houston conducted and shared with TXDOT in March), flooding and other water quality impacts, and loss of green space, all of which affect the health, including mental health, of the communities where TXDOT plans to expand I-45 North of Downtown Houston.
Every major infrastructure project using taxpayer dollars should be an opportunity to improve the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods, rather than simply mitigating negative impacts.
Despite federal interventions, highway construction continues to disproportionately impact on low-income communities of color, from the increased the toxicity of our air to the increasing speeds at which we dare to allow drivers to endure.
We have an opportunity to do this through House Bill 2306. House bill 2306 provides an institutional litmus test for the Texas Department of Transportation to examine the distribution of health benefits and burdens of future highway projects. Specifically, the bill will create a committee to explore implementing health impact assessment strategies into transportation planning. Ensuring positive public health outcomes should be a state policy priority that more effectively serves the people of urban Texas regions now and in the future.
Thank you for your time and attention.