Infrastructure

Houston, Harris County compromise on I-45 expansion, bringing project closer to reality

Local leaders said although the project isn’t perfect, it is better than it was before negotiations with TXDOT over the past year and half.

Fujio Watanabe / Houston Public Media
Local activists say the I-45 expansion would increase pollution, worsen traffic congestion, and displace hundreds located in underserved communities.

After months of legal wrangling and community push-back, an ambitious plan to expand Interstate 45 north of downtown Houston is closer to reality.

The City of Houston and Harris County on Thursday signed memorandums of understanding with the Texas Department of Transportation that could end delays that have included a lawsuit filed by Harris County and a federal civil rights investigation.

The compromise comes after TXDOT agreed to a series of demands from community leaders, including assurances that public housing in the path of the project would be replaced elsewhere. The agreement also includes promises of flood mitigation projects, connected neighborhoods, green space and enhanced public transit.

Local leaders said although the project isn't perfect, it is better than it was before negotiations with TXDOT over the past year and half.

"On-balance, with the improvements, I think you have an excellent project that will move forward, that will benefit the greater good of the Houston community, Harris County and the region," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

The expansion project, which could cost upwards of $10 billion, would swing around the east side of downtown and head north, adding several managed lanes to the freeway and cutting a new path for some of the roadway.

Community leaders in affected neighborhoods resisted the plan, saying it would displace residents in public housing along the route. Under the updated agreements, TXDOT said it would guarantee net zero public housing loss.

"We expect that TXDOT will uphold their end of this historic agreement and not only evaluate the impacts over the next year, but also agree to funding real solutions that address concerns about displacement, pollution, flooding and impacts on public transportation in our networks," Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said Thursday.

The negotiations with TXDOT have sometimes been contentious, with concerns state highway planners had not fully considered the impact of the project on the Houston community.

Many of those concerns have now been addressed, with the main stakeholders in agreement that the project has been improved with local input.

"Because of our collective efforts, this transportation infrastructure project can serve as a model for our country," Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said. "In a world where disagreements are often deal-breakers, I'm proud to be a part of the group that found the solution to this project."

The project still hasn't been given a total green light yet. The Federal High Administration paused the plan last year to investigate potential civil rights violations in lower-income communities affected by the expansion. That investigation is ongoing, although it's likely with Thursday's agreements, it could be concluded soon.

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Jack Williams

Executive Producer for Daily News

Jack is back in Houston after some time away working in public radio and television in Lincoln, Nebraska. Before leaving for the Midwest, he worked in various roles at Houston Public Media from 2000-2016, including reporting, hosting and anchoring. Jack has also worked in commercial news radio in Houston, Austin...

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