LINK Houston Executive Director Oni Blair’s Remarks on Agenda Item #6 (includes NHHIP consideration)
Houston-Galveston Area Council: Transportation Advisory Committee
June 17, 2020
My name is Oni Blair, and I am a voting member of the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC).
I thank the parties – the City of Houston, Harris County, Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO), Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) – for their continued engagement in the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (or NHHIP).
As you all know, the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) that we’ll vote on today includes NHHIP’s Segment 3. This segment stretches from Downtown Houston to IH-10. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) estimated that NHHIP segment 3 would displace about 900 housing units, meaning thousands of people in predominantly Black and Brown communities.
America is grappling with racial tensions and the real impacts of systemic racism. Every person on the TAC must understand that a vote on this project continues those very systems of oppression, disparity, and racial inequities. TxDOT estimates Segment 3 is 67% minority and that Segments 2 and 1 have minority populations in the 80 and 90 percentiles, respectively. Overall, the December 2019 Draft Community Impacts Assessment technical report (an appendix to the EIS) still estimates that the project will displace over 1,000 homes. These homes are primarily in communities of color, where the NHHIP will have an outsized effect on the health, community stability, culture, economics, and general well-being of many of Houston’s historic African-American and Latinx neighborhoods. The disparate racial impact of the pending action compounds the widely acknowledged injustice that TxDOT inflicted upon Houston African-American neighborhoods when TxDOT first constructed the interstate highway system 50 years ago.
I have been a part of the TAC for over one year. I am sure some people on this body are asking, “What does that have to do with me?” Or asking, “Isn’t this the cost of progress?” Some of you have said, if we just showed the public that we have to expand the highway to meet safety standards, then the public will understand we have to expand the footprint of the highway and accept all of the consequences that come with it. Some of you understand quite well the consequences but are afraid to speak up in front of your peers and especially in front of TxDOT.
To me, these are not acceptable answers or positions. We know the consequences of this project will predominantly impact Black people and Latinx people. We know that those consequences can be devastating to a community. The people living alongside the highway deserve to be safe and have access to opportunity; not to bear the brunt of this project for another 50 years. Each of us around this table has a responsibility to do what’s right for people, regardless of their skin color. Standing idly by while allowing this funding to go forward without real community-supported improvements to the project makes every member complicit in this injustice and a co-conspirator in continued systemic racism.
Today, I am asking the TAC members to be mindful of your vote. Would you vote this way if you lived in the footprint of this highway? Would you support funding if those were your neighbors and families? I am asking the TAC to demand a real statement or resolution that delineates an agreement between the major parties to specifically study and pursue the alternatives outlined by Mayor Turner in his letter to Commissioner Ryan. I am asking the TAC and Transportation Policy Council (TPC) to specifically address the outstanding adverse impacts outlined in that document, especially the displacement of people and businesses. And I am asking that the statement, resolution, or MOU – whatever form it takes – delineate specific expectations linked to TAC/TPC decisions to halt or withdraw funding should the project fail to address the very real concerns of residents – taxpayers – who live adjacent to the project.
It is imperative that we take action to address the real concerns that numerous stakeholders have identified concerning the inequitable consequences of the NHHIP on Black and Latinx communities. We cannot sit here and pretend that the decisions of this body are unrelated to the discussions concerning systemic racism that are going on in Houston and across the country. I am asking my fellow TAC members to communicate with their TPC counterparts and agree to create real commitments to improve the NHHIP project or to halt the project until it can satisfactorily address those concerns.