The Texas Department of Transportation wants to know: Should they proceed with the I-45 North Houston Highway Improvement project or not. Currently, TxDOT has asked the public to tell them whether they should invest the $7.9 billion earmarked for the project considering some have raised concerns.
With one week remaining in the 30 days set aside for online comments, Houston area residents have four ways of submitting their opinions: Online – Visit www.TxDot.gov and search the keyword “UTP public involvement” to access the online comment form; Email – Comments can be sent to UTP-PublicComments@txdot.gov; Phone – 800-687-8108; Mail – Texas Department of Transportation, Attn: TPP-UTP, P.O. Box 149217, Austin, Tx 78714-9217.
In an interview with the Houston Defender network, TxDot Executive Director Marc Williams stated that the biggest benefits of the I-45 project are providing traffic congestion relief, addressing flooding along the corridor and connecting different types of transportation modes from bicycle, pedestrian and transit.
“It’s been over 15 years in the making that has brought us to this point where we have a project that has gone through the environmental review process, the planning review process, and that TxDOT is ready to move forward with. Now we’re hearing from some in the local community, important voices in the local community, that want us to potentially reassess what has been done over the past 15 years,” state Williams.
“What we’re trying to make sure that the community understands is that to go back and begin to reassess these issues is going to be a significant delay, an undetermined delay in the project. But we’re continuing to have good dialogue with different elected officials, different voices in the community and the metropolitan planning organization working hard to try to find a good path forward, so that we can hopefully move forward with this project sooner, rather than later.”
Williams explained there has been about five and half billion dollars of funding already committed to the project but admits, “There are many needs in the region. There are many needs throughout the state, and if the region is not ready to move forward with the project that has been part of their plan for a number of years, and the region wants to reassess and reevaluate how they may want the project built, we’ll work with them on that. But we can’t leave that amount of money potentially sitting there for an undetermined outcome.”
Traditionally, highway expansion has a major impact on Black and Brown neighborhoods displacing residents and oftentimes failing to gain input from those impacted by the highway project.
“It affects people’s homes, businesses and communities. We want to make sure that we’re doing not just what we are required to do, but more than what we’re required to do to help address those areas. So first of all, we’ve looked at anything that we can do to reduce the footprint of the project, the size of the project, and still address the objectives of the project,” explained Williams.
“Where we do have homes and businesses that have been impacted, we have focused on going above and beyond in offering relocation benefits, offering fair market value or above fair market value in many cases to relocate people and look for ways to allow people to relocate back into the community that they live in.”
Working with the local housing authority, Williams contends families have been relocated to better housing units replacing units that were uninhabitable or destroyed during Hurricane Harvey.
Expressing gratitude to the community partners in the Black community who have worked with TxDot, Williams stated, “We work with the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council. Tanya DeVos has been a very important advocate for that particular community. We worked with the NAACP Houston branch and their housing committee in this effort, the Southeast Management District Transportation Committee.
”We’ve also engaged with Texas Southern University, Gulf Coast Community Services Association, the Houston Area Urban League and the Houston Housing Authority. It’s a really broad cross section of individuals that are engaged and active in the local communities along this important highway corridor. And we’ve really valued and benefited from the input that we’ve received from those organizations”