How a park designation could derail the I-45 expansion
A Houston City Council member is resurrecting a push to designate White Oak Bayou near downtown as a city park — all in an effort to derail the controversial Interstate 45 expansion project.
Catch up quick: The North Houston Highway Improvement Project is a nearly $10 billion Texas Department of Transportation project that would widen and reshape I-45 from Beltway 8 to south of downtown.
- Near downtown, I-45 will be rerouted alongside Interstate 10 and U.S. 59 over White Oak Bayou.
Driving the news: At-large Councilmember Letitia Plummer and community advocates are circulating a petition that urges Mayor Sylvester Turner to allow council members the opportunity to vote on designating the green space as a city park.
- The group specifically wants the space between Taylor and North Main streets to be protected.
- Turner is responsible for deciding what matters the City Council votes on, so winning him over is key to the group's success — but it's unclear where he stands.
- He did not respond to a request for comment before Axios' deadline.
Why it matters: An obscure rule in U.S. transportation law says that highways can't be built over parks, preservations or historic sites.
- If the portion of White Oak Bayou is designated as a park, it will throw a wrench into TxDOT's plans to expand and reroute the highway.
- The project has received pushback from community members and advocacy groups, like Stop TxDOT I-45, over its impacts to the environment and surrounding neighborhoods, which are made up of mostly Black and brown residents.
State of play: White Oak Bayou is primarily used as a flood control measure but includes amenities like hike and bike trails, as well as large swaths of open land where people congregate and play sports.
- "We use it as a park," Plummer tells Axios. "We've got bike lanes going through like it's a park. There are benches like a park. It looks and feels like a park, but it isn't designated."
What they're saying: Plummer wants the I-45 project to stay within the highway's current footprint and include a Metropolitan Transit Authority bus rapid transit lane.
- "Mobility is huge," Plummer says. "There's also a mindset of building our city around cars vs. people. We have to think about people and not cars. How do people need to move in these communities? This expansion is really helping people in the suburbs, but it's hurting people in the core."
Flashback: Plummer mentioned the proposal to council members in December 2020, but it was only an idea at that point. Now, she's hoping it will come to fruition.
- "I thought it was dead," Plummer says. "I'm excited it's come back and we're having a real conversation about the options."
What we're watching: The petition kicked off last week and had 249 signatures as of Sunday.
- Plummer says the group wants 10,000 signatures.
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