Transportation

TxDOT holding public meetings in Houston ahead of construction for I-45 expansion project

A total of six community meetings will be held this week and next to address design and construction updates related to a $9.7 billion initiative to widen and reroute I-45 near and north of downtown.

I-45 Traffic
Gail Delaughter/Houston Public Media
Drivers sit in traffic on I-45 northbound at North Main Street.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is holding a series of virtual and in-person public meetings this month about its controversial Interstate 45 expansion project in Houston as construction is expected to start next year.

The community engagement sessions, part of an agreement between the state agency and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) after an investigation into environmental and civil rights concerns about the $9.7 billion initiative, will provide design and construction updates while giving members of the public the opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback, according to TxDOT. There will be one in-person gathering and one virtual meeting for each of the three segments of the project, which will widen and reroute a 25-mile stretch of the freeway near and north of downtown.

The first set of meetings will focus on Segment 3 in the downtown area, where construction is projected to begin in late 2024. The in-person meeting is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Wednesday at St. John's Downtown Church, 2019 Crawford St., followed by a corresponding virtual meeting from 5-7 p.m. Thursday.

"TxDOT will update the public on the overall project status, design refinements, details regarding the Voluntary Resolution Agreement (with the FHWA) and future construction schedule," the state transportation agency said in a news release.

The Segment 2 meetings, which cover the part of I-45 between North Loop 610 and Interstate 10, are scheduled for next week. The in-person gathering will be held from 5-7 p.m. Monday at the Moody Community Center, 3725 Fulton St., and the virtual meeting is 5-7 p.m. Tuesday.

For Segment 1, which covers I-45 from the North Loop to Beltway 8, the virtual meeting is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. next Wednesday, Dec. 13. The in-person meeting will be held from 5-7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Aldine Ninth Grade Center, 10650 North Fwy.

For each segment, the same information will be presented at both the in-person and virtual gatherings, according to TxDOT, which said they will be conducted in English with real-time Spanish translation.

TxDOT's "North Houston Highway Improvement Project" has been in the works for more than a decade, and construction is expected to last until 2042, according to the agency's presentation in May to the Houston-Galveston Area Council. The plan calls for reconstructing and rerouting I-45 from the west side of downtown to the east, aligning it with Interstates 10 and 69, while also widening the freeway north of downtown.

The FHWA asked TxDOT to pause its work in 2021 amidst local complaints about the project, which also calls for the displacement of more than 1,000 homes and businesses in low-income communities of color. Harris County also filed a federal lawsuit against TxDOT in 2021, asking a judge to compel the state agency to respond to concerns about those issues and how the project might exacerbate flooding risks, air pollution and traffic congestion.

Officials with TxDOT, Harris County and the City of Houston reached an agreement about the project late last year, with the county dropping its lawsuit, and the FHWA lifted its pause in March. That allowed TxDOT to move forward while pledging to improve its public engagement, allocate $30 million to help those who are displaced and incorporate green space, sidewalks and bicycle paths into the project design, among other concessions.

TxDOT says the project will "help manage congestion, improve mobility, enhance safety and provide travelers with options to get to their destinations." But the plan continues to have opponents, including the Stop TxDOT I-45 grassroots campaign, which is inviting interested members of the public to attend "casual community dinners" following each of the upcoming in-person meetings.

"Stop TxDOT I-45 will continue to advocate for a transformative I-45 project that, based on thorough community engagement, actually relieves traffic, actually makes us safer, actually improves air quality, reduces flooding and allows residents of Houston and Harris County to choose how they move around," the group said in a news release. "We want a project that does not displace, and we know that widened freeways do not relieve traffic."

In addition to the upcoming meetings, TxDOT said members of the public can provide project feedback through Jan. 5. Correspondence in any language may be mailed to TxDOT I-45 NHHIP Ombudsman, TxDOT Houston District, P.O. Box 1386, Houston, Texas 77251-1386. Feedback also may be submitted by email to nhhip.ombudsman@txdot.gov or HOU-PIOwebmail@txdot.gov.

A schedule for the upcoming meetings is below:

SEGMENT 3 (DOWNTOWN AREA)

In-person meeting: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, at St. John's Downtown Church, 2019 Crawford St.

Virtual meeting: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, on Zoom.

SEGMENT 2 (I-45 FROM I-10 TO NORTH LOOP 610)

In-person meeting: 5-7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at Moody Community Center, 3725 Fulton St.

Virtual meeting: 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, on Zoom.

SEGMENT 1 (I-45 FROM NORTH LOOP 610 TO BELTWAY 8)

Virtual meeting: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13, on Zoom.

In-person meeting: 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, at Aldine Ninth Grade Center, 10650 North Fwy.