Good morning, my name is Oni Blair, and I am the executive director of LINK Houston. LINK Houston advocates for an equitable and robust transportation network so that all people can reach opportunity. Thank you for joining us here at Bruce Elementary where the highway directly impacts the students who attend this school.
We are here today with our partners from Air Alliance Houston, other organizations, and community members because we are deeply concerned about the inequities of the Texas Department of Transportation’s proposed North Houston Highway Improvement Project, or the I-45 expansion. On Friday, July 26 the Houston Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council will vote on whether to fund $100 million for Segment 2 of I-45 project. We are asking members of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council to delay the vote.
Why? We are asking the Transportation Policy Council to delay the vote because voting now to fund the I-45 expansion condones the project as it is currently designed, a project that is fraught with inequities. We welcome the City of Houston’s efforts to listen to communities and integrate efforts that address their concerns into one document that will allow the City of Houston to speak with one voice. In order for our City to be united on this project, the City of Houston must hear the many voices from neighborhoods adjacent to the project and make every effort to integrate solutions that will protect housing, protect culture and history, prevent excessive flooding, protect parks and greenspaces, and protect the air we breathe and the roads we use.
We are asking H-GAC’s Transportation Policy Council to delay the vote so that the voting members understand the real implications of the project and work with the Texas Department of Transportation to fix them. North Houston Highway Improvement Project is estimated to cost $7-10 billion (exclusive of right-of-way purchases) and expand about 25 miles of highway over a 10-year period. Yet, our local officials and members of H-GAC’s voting bodies are unaware of TXDOT’s own findings on the project. When we share the numbers on the project, we are clear: these numbers come directly from TXDOT. TXDOT’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement acknowledges that the proposed project will “cause disproportionate and highly adverse impacts to minority or low-income populations.” TXDOT’s Community Impact Assessment Technical Report details how the expansion project requires additional right-of-way and will therefore displace: 168 single family homes; 1,067 multi-family homes (including 368 low-income units and 60 homeless veterans’ units); and 331 businesses that employ 24,873 people. These numbers for residences pale in comparison to projects like 290, which displaced 360 housing units and the I-10/Katy Freeway expansion, which displaced about 190 housing units.
We are asking H-GAC’s Transportation Policy Council to delay the vote so that we can make the I-45 project one that creates opportunity instead of perpetuating a history of disruption and displacement. The 1994 Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice, the Federal Highway Administrations 1997 and 1998 orders to address environmental justice, and the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act all outline the need to address adverse impact to minority and low-income populations. Yet, this project seems to be an exception to those federal rules. TXDOT’s Community Impact Assessment outlines that 67.3 percent of the Segment 3 Census profile area is a minority population; 84.8 percent of the Segment 2 is minority population, and 92 percent of Segment 1 population is minority. TXDOT’s blanket statement that all alternatives would cause disproportionate high and adverse impacts to minority or low-income populations” is unacceptable.
So, what can we do? First, H-GAC can delay the vote until TXDOT addresses these concerns. Second, these adverse impacts to history, culture, residences, flooding, air quality, and road safety have not been addressed by TxDOT yet. While TXDOT has noted that it is trying things its never done before, one thing remains missing from its efforts: limiting the right-of-way. Limiting the right-of-way would address all of these concerns. Finally, we urge the City of Houston and residents to work together to speak with one voice and address these concerns as soon as possible.