August 2, 2021
This is Jonathan Brooks with LINK Houston. We advocate for a robust and equitable transportation network so that all people can reach opportunity.
Governor Abbott’s Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) would have the public believe the only option for the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) is TxDOT’s present design or no project at all, which is strictly and wholly not true.
Question 2 on the UTP public comment form is, “Specific to the I-45 NHHIP, please select one of the following responses.” The TTC and TxDOT provide two choices, “Support maintaining project and funding as proposed” and “Support removing project and funding” (emphasis added). There are several fundamental issues with the question and the misrepresentative answer choices.
- The Houston region has been working toward a transportation paradigm shift, including by investing in and expanding public transit through METRONext; building out the Houston Bike Plan; developing a Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate roadway fatalities and serious injuries; and working to mitigate climate impacts through the Climate Action Plan and the Resilient Houston The NHHIP, as currently designed, does not align with any of these initiatives.
- The State is knowingly attempting to force the public to believe there are only two options – which is deeply misleading. By refusing to acknowledge any of the nuances to the opposition of the NHHIP project as proposed, the state is willfully ignoring the clear middle ground and support for a better project.
- If the TTC and TxDOT genuinely sought public input, they would have at least included some form of third option, such as “Support maintaining funding but redesigning the project to better respond to community input.”
- By including “…as proposed” and intentionally neglecting to recognize a third option, the State is refusing the opportunity to explore a better alternative.
- Houston and Harris County elected officials – duly elected to represent their constituents (people and businesses) – provided a feasible alternative vision, with equal or better benefits, to TxDOT. Those same officials have consistently expressed a need for a project. It is TxDOT and the TTC’s unwillingness to work with local entities that is holding up the project. This is unacceptable and frankly an embarrassment for the State of Texas.
- The City of Houston’s vision is the result of deep community engagement and has support from state and federal legislative officials. Further, the Mayor’s ask to TxDOT was to study a new alternative within several parameters – not to categorically accept the alternative as-is. The state has refused, repeatedly, to work in good faith for a better future for Houston and the region.
- The locally supported vision for the corridor will result in similar types and levels of benefits than TxDOT’s own as proposed deign – a facility and corridor that is more safe, multimodal, reliable, available for evacuations, and resilient to flooding (i.e., both on the facility and improving flooding in adjacent communities). So, why does the state refuse to even entertain re-envisioning the project?
- The project as designed is a waste of taxpayer dollars. TxDOT will create a catastrophe during years of construction, disrupting more than 70% of all transit trips in Houston for over a decade, only to give us worse congestion due to induced demand which will keep us stuck in our cars in traffic without other practical, affordable travel options.
- Some “as proposed” supporters are stating there is time to address remaining issues during final design or with minor re-evaluations to the environmental documents – this is not true. The City of Houston’s alternative vision sets forth aspirational parameters for the project that are larger than can be addressed during final design. TxDOT should return to the negotiating table in good faith, thoroughly explore a revised design that adds additional benefits to those already agreed with communities and stakeholders and prepare a supplementary Final EIS.
- LINK Houston will mark Option 2 to remove the project and funding because we refuse to accept the state’s bullying for their “as proposed” design. We do this lamenting the state’s failure in truly multimodal transportation leadership, failure in balancing local community and regional benefits, and lack of vision for truly different, better, and more equitable urban transportation projects that do not waste billions of taxpayer dollars. Houston deserves a project that makes the 10-15 years of construction pain and $9+ billion investment worth it – for everyone.
August 2, 2021