Mar 8, 2023 - News

Feds greenlight $9.7B Houston highway expansion

Photo of Houston's skyline and traffic

Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Interstate 45 expansion through the heart of Houston is finally moving forward.

Catch up quick: The North Houston Highway Improvement Project is a nearly $10 billion Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) project that will widen and reshape 17 miles of I-45 from Beltway 8 to south of downtown.

  • Near downtown, I-45 will be rerouted alongside Interstate 10 and U.S. 59.

Flashback: Two years ago, the Federal Highway Administration paused work on the project as it investigated potential civil rights violations associated with the planning and implementation of the $9.7 billion project, which would have mostly affected areas with predominantly Black and Hispanic residents.

  • Harris County and activists also separately sued TxDOT over the potential impact to the environment and surrounding neighborhoods.

Driving the news: TxDOT and the Federal Highway Administration signed a voluntary resolution agreement yesterday, ending the two-year pause and allowing planning work to resume immediately.

Details: TxDOT must take several steps in order to be compliant with the agreement, according to the Houston Chronicle, which include:

  • Reducing the footprint of the freeway
  • Building caps on portions of depressed highway that can be used for greenspace or other amenities
  • Adding $3 million toward public housing, for a total commitment of $30 million
  • Providing $1.5 million for parks and trails
  • Creating special detours near two Houston ISD schools during construction

What they're saying: "The North Houston Highway Improvement Project can now be the project Houston deserves it to be," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a series of tweets. "It is a project that helps people and goods travel through the region while encouraging people to travel between our neighborhoods without impacting them. A project that can help knit back together our downtown and improve the air we all breathe."

The other side: Joetta Stevenson, president of Houston's Super Neighborhood 55, expressed skepticism to the Chronicle.

  • "They are doing what federal agencies do, using the term enforcement when historically we have seen no follow through," Stevenson said. "So far, I see no tangible changes that don't rely on TxDOT's good faith participation."

What we're watching: Construction is slated to begin in 2027.


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