TxDOT releases environmental analysis on I-45 rebuild, kicking off comment period

The $7 billion plan to remake Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north took another step forward Friday when officials released the final environmental analysis for public comment, mostly unchanged from its previous form. © Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer Interstate 10 runs into Interstate 45 near Stude Park […]

The $7 billion plan to remake Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north took another step forward Friday when officials released the final environmental analysis for public comment, mostly unchanged from its previous form.



a bridge over a body of water with a city in the background: Interstate 10 runs into Interstate 45 near Stude Park along White Oak Bayou on Sept. 24, 2020, in Houston.


© Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Interstate 10 runs into Interstate 45 near Stude Park along White Oak Bayou on Sept. 24, 2020, in Houston.


The final report, more than 15 years in the making, is not the final word on exactly what will be built as the Texas Department of Transportation and Houston leaders address differences in their competing visions for the project.

“Nothing is set in stone,” said Eliza Paul, district director for TxDOT in Houston. “We want to keep working with everyone.”

Though designs still are months, even years, from their final forms — portions of the project north of Loop 610 remain outside state highway funding plans — critics already believe the project is moving too fast toward a November or December federal approval.

That approval can only come after a 30-day comment period, likely to start in a couple weeks.

“Thirty days is simply not enough time for our organization, our partners, and, most importantly, directly impacted community members, to adequately analyze such a complex document and provide feedback,” said Ines Siegel, communications and outreach director for LINK Houston, which has advocated against the I-45 plans.

Stop TxDOT I-45, a neighborhood group formed to oppose the project, said it will seek an extension of the federal comment process.

TxDOT’s long-stated plan is to rebuild and widen the freeway by adding two managed lanes in each direction from downtown to Beltway 8. In addition, the central business district freeway system will be rebuilt, shifting I-45 to parallel Interstate 69 on the east side. I-69, Interstate 10 and connections to downtown and Texas 288 also would be redesigned.

That work, however, has a huge effect on nearby residences and businesses, drawing criticism from local groups and Mayor Sylvester Turner. Nearly 1,100 residences, 486 of which qualify as low-income housing, would be displaced by the project, along with 344 businesses, five churches and two schools.

Some of the most affected communities include Third Ward, Fifth Ward, Near Northside and Independence Heights — all historically Black and Hispanic neighborhoods for the last half-century that have lost properties to previous freeway expansions.

“It is important for TxDOT to listen to residents directly impacted by the project, whose experiences and input will help the state create a better project that improves community quality-of-life and avoids re-harming communities in ways similar to past injustices,” Siegel said.

As a result of the concerns, Turner asked TxDOT in April to redesign the project to add one transit-only lane in each direction — not two managed lanes — and reduce frontage roads to two lanes in many places, instead of three. The changes sought by the city drastically reduce the number of residences and businesses lost, but devote much of the rebuild to replacing what already exists and adding only new transit options, not additional room for automobiles.

Turner “looks forward to reviewing the comments,” as the process continues, spokeswoman Mary Benton said.

For the past year, TxDOT has said its goal is to work with critics to develop the best project for the region, but wants to work through that process after it has a formal federal approval.

Though far from the sweeping changes some have sought, Paul noted some suggestions from critics are reflected in the final report, such as changes in Eado to entrances and exits. Bicycle and pedestrian amenities also have been included at the 44 downtown Houston streets crossed by the new freeways. Some areas include a buffer area of 15 to 17 feet for bike and foot traffic.

Paul said officials “will continue to consider all input received during the lifetime of the (project). We look forward to continued coordination with the public on the development and refinement.”

She said some decisions on the project, such as whether the managed lanes will be only open to transit or express traffic to downtown, will be decided as the project moves ahead.

Under national guidelines TxDOT issues a final approval to itself after following the existing process, which then must be OKed by Washington. That could allow TxDOT to have a final decision by November, following the public comment period. TxDOT officials said they expect federally-required notice of the report to happen on Oct. 9, which means all comments would be due by Nov. 9 to be considered.

The analysis can be viewed online, as well as by appointment at TxDOT’s Houston office. In-person visits, because of the pandemic, will require residents to undergo temperature checks and wear a mask at all times.

[email protected]

Continue Reading
Next Post

Justice Dept moves to make it easier to sue internet companies

The Trump Administration is proposing to dramatically roll back some legal protections for internet companies including Facebook and Twitter.   © Bill Pugliano / Getty Images William Barr The Department of Justice has proposed that Congress amend part of a 1996 law that gives internet platforms broad immunity from civil […]