Central Houston's new plan for I-45
A prominent downtown business organization wants to add $750 million of amenities to the embattled North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP), according to plans shared exclusively with Axios Houston.
Catch up quick: The NHHIP is a nearly $10 billion Texas Department of Transportation project that will widen and reshape Interstate 45 from Beltway 8 to south of downtown.
- Near downtown, I-45 will be rerouted alongside Interstate 10 and U.S. 59.
Driving the news: Central Houston is proposing 10 new amenities in and around the downtown portion of the interstate project with a goal of making it more equitable to communities previously ravaged by Houston's network of highways. The plan calls for:
- A community park built above a depressed portion of the freeway in East Downtown.
- A green loop around downtown with trails, parks and community spaces.
- Transforming Pierce Elevated into a sky park on the west and south sides of downtown.
State of play: A Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) investigation put the interstate project on hold more than a year ago. Federal officials are considering whether TxDOT committed any Title VI civil rights violations with the highway's proposed new footprint, which mostly affects Black and brown communities.
- More than 1,000 homes, 100 businesses and nearly a dozen schools and churches would be destroyed for additional right-of-way.
- TxDOT has already demolished hundreds of homes in East Downtown to make way for the widened highway despite the federal hold.
- More work could start as late as 2025 if the hold was lifted, according to TxDOT.
What they're saying: "The transformational aspect [of Central Houston's plan] is connecting communities that have been rent asunder under transportation projects in the 50s and 60s that destroyed communities," says Allen Douglas, general counsel for the downtown group.
What's happening: Central Houston presented plans and a cost analysis to the FHWA this spring.
- The group hopes the FHWA will find a way to incorporate the amenities into the project as it determines the outcome of the investigation.
Details: Central Houston is willing to pay for about one-third of the cost of the new amenities, but the rest remains unfunded.
- The group hopes to work with other entities to seek federal and state grants to fill the gaps.
- Douglas said the cost of the additional work, if it ever came to fruition, shouldn't be a "burden for the local community."
Yes, but: Not everyone is onboard.
- Stop TxDOT I-45, a group of community organizers who have long protested the NHHIP, doesn't think amenities solve the problems with the project.
- "No amount of 'beautification' can neutralize the devastating impacts of widening I-45," the group said in a statement. "These renderings are distractions from the fact that widening I-45 will result in worse traffic, worse air quality and catastrophic displacement."
Flashback: The project has faced opposition for years from some local government officials and community activists.
- Stop TxDOT I-45 was among several groups who filed a civil rights complaint.
- Harris County officials also sued TxDOT over the project but put their lawsuit on pause to open up discussions with the department, Community Impact reported.
What we're watching: The FHWA investigation is ongoing, and there's no timetable for completion.
- U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg declined to comment on the investigation during a recent visit to Houston.
- If TxDOT is found to have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the FHWA can order a 90-day corrective plan among other remedies.
Go deeper: Read Central Houston's full proposal here.
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