TxDOT intends to spend at least $7 billion to expand I-45 over the next decade. Maintaining that this project is needed for the millions of people expected to move to Houston, TxDOT is planning to reroute and widen 25 miles of freeways, all the way from Midtown north to the Sam Houston Tollway.
It’s the kind of project that happens only once a generation. But many Houstonians — both everyday residents and experts, including transportation engineers, urban planners and professional advocates for air quality, equity and public health — are concerned that it won’t improve the lives of millions who are already here. They are concerned the project, as designed, would lead to a range of predictable, but avoidable, negative impacts — negative impacts they are urging TxDOT to consider, too.
First, the project would lead to serious displacement. The state would have to seize property and demolish 168 houses, 331 businesses, more than 1,000 apartments, even a 115-year-old church in a historic black community. Almost 25,000 jobs would be lost.
The project would lead to increased risk of flooding. As many as 27 acres of much-needed open space would become concrete, adding to the city’s stock of so-called “impermeable surfaces,” which worsen runoff and burden our drainage system. The project is also designed according to outdated 100-year floodplain maps, not the 500-year floodplain maps adopted after Hurricane Harvey.
The project could affect our safety. Houston is already the deadliest city in the country for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users. The project could make the vision of reducing avoidable traffic violence even more challenging by encouraging higher speeds, especially on the widened frontage roads that will intersect problematically with local streets. The urban planner Jeff Speck has called TxDOT’s proposed bike lanes on the frontage roads a “cruel joke.”
The project is expensive. Though TxDOT plans to build the infrastructure for three so-called “deck parks,” which sit on top of sunken freeways, TxDOT will not provide any funding for the parks, just the decks. Klyde Warren Park, a similar deck park in Dallas, cost $110 million and requires millions of dollars a year more in donations for a private foundation to operate and maintain. With this project, TxDOT is burdening Houston taxpayers and private donors with a bill at least three times as big.
And the project could hurt our health. Beyond the known risks associated with increased tailpipe emissions and excessive noise pollution, widening I-45 will bring 26 schools and daycares within 500 feet of the roadway, a zone where the Environmental Protection Agency finds exposure to air pollution is highest. As they attend school, the developing lungs of the city’s youngest and most vulnerable children will be at risk, decreasing their ability to learn and thrive.
This is just the beginning of the full scope of what TxDOT calls the North Houston Highway Improvement Project. To learn more, please read the links below, and please follow One Breath Partnership on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.