Community petition to designate White Oak Bayou as park could thwart I-45 expansion in Houston

A petition was started in November and over 1,900 signatures are already in support of the designation, with a total goal of 3,200 signatures. 

City of Houston
Councilor Letitia Plummer is considering designating part of White Oak Greenway as a park to prevent the expansion of I-45. Green highlight areas are HPARD properties. Highlighted pink is Bayou Greenways, and trails are yellow lines.

Community advocates are pushing to get the City of Houston to designate White Oak Bayou as a city park to protect the greenspace and potentially halt the controversial I-45 expansion project. The multi-billion North Houston High Improvement Project would widen and reroute I-45 between downtown and Beltway 8, causing displacements for some surrounding communities and businesses along the project's path.

A petition was started in November and over 1,900 signatures are already in support of the designation, with a total goal of 3,200 signatures.

At-Large Council Member Letitia Plummer first presented the idea to officially designate White Oak as a park to council members in December 2020, but it went nowhere. After seeing the success of designating a small area of White Oak that would not be affected by the expansion, she decided to revisit her initial idea.

"I reposted my letter to the administration on making the request and so I think that kind of caught fire and people then noticed it and then a lot of the organizations came together and they put together a petition," Plummer said.

The area of White Oak Bayou that advocates want designated is between Taylor St. and N. Main Street towards the University of Houston-Downtown. Most of the greenway is already designated as a city park which includes Stude Park, Hogg Park, Freed Art and Nature Park, Woodland Park, Ley Plaza Park, Fitzgerald Park and White Oak Park which is under the city's Park and Recreation Department (HPARD).

Plummer said the only solution that could possibly derail the controversial I-45 project is to designate that area as a park which would fall under the U.S. Department of Transportation Law that prevents highways from being built over parks, wildlife, and historic sites.

"So the way the federal government looks at it is, if you have a recognized park, then you cannot put any type of freeway over it," she said. "It would be a hard stop, that would strongly have to encourage TxDOT to reconfigure the way in which the freeways are being drawn."

Although that particular area is not designated as a park, Plummer said it has park amenities.

"If you look at White Oak, they’ve got park benches, they’ve got bike trails, they’ve got walking trails, there’s water ways in that area," she said. "So under normal consideration, White is a park, it’s even called White Oak Park."

A large patch of forested land south of White Oak is not park land, and is the location of a proposed detention pond by TXDOT, the mayor's office said. The city does not have jurisdiction over TXDOT.

Plummer said when she speaks with residents that are against the I-45 project their concerns are maintaining good air quality, the bike and nature trails, and the wildlife that may be in the area. She said the project goes against the city's Climate Action Plan which includes limiting the amount of cars on the road.

"We have to look at the way the city is, I mean, we can’t design our city around cars, if we’re looking at our Climate Action Plan and the way the mayor’s rolled it out, then it really contradicts putting more cars on the road," she said. We know that I- 45 is only going to increase a person from point A to point B by maybe seven minutes."

Plummer said she's not against the freeway project, but said it could adversely impact minority communities in the roadway’s path.

"A lot of the areas that are affected by this are areas that are already dealing with high levels of environmental injustice," she said. "We’re just putting more environmental issues on communities that are already in distress."

Plummer is hoping the designation could be considered an agenda item for other council members to vote on. Mayor Sylvester Turner is responsible for what matters are placed on the city's agenda.

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