Stop TxDOT I-45 organizers and protestors successfully paused a demolition permit from the Texas Department of Transportation’s I-45 expansion plan, which would have demolished more than 375 housing units in East Downtown Houston.
The state agency planned to start construction this week despite a federal investigation by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration halting the project in March on potential civil rights violations and environmental concerns.
Houstonians from all across the city gathered on Saint Emanuel St. and walked to the Lofts at the Ballpark apartment complex to protest against the state agency.
According to organizers, the Lofts at the Ballpark apartment complex, which sits right beside the Houston Dynamo Stadium, was built in the early 2000s and purchased by TxDOT in 2021. All tenants in the building have since relocated in preparation for the demolition.
The Federal Highway Administration asked the state agency on Tuesday for more information on the Lofts.
“My thoughts on demolishing anything period is no,” StopTxDOT organizer Fabian Ramirez said. “I don’t think that any of the infrastructure on this side of town needs to be replaced, torn down, or anything like that. The fact that people are going to be relocated and asked to leave their homes and communities is absolutely disgusting.”
Throughout the protest, StopTxDOT organizers called the project a racist highway. They kept emphasizing the negative impacts this project would have on Black, Latinx, and other minority communities who live in the area.
“The west side of downtown, you know the 45 stretches is not going to be compromised the way this east side of downtown is going to be,” Ramirez said. “They are going to receive more green space and more residential housing, and this side of town is going to get the exact opposite.”
This minority-majority area is only one piece of TxDOT’s overall plan to expand the highway from downtown Houston to Beltway 8. According to Segregation by Design, TxDOT’s 8 billion dollar plan would demolish 1,079 residential housing units, 433 apartments, 340 businesses, 158 houses, five churches, and two schools.
The demolition pause is a victory for the volunteer-based grassroots organization working to stop the project altogether.
The Signal spoke with Molly Cook, a StopTxDOT organizer, who said the agency’s I-45 highway expansion continues the infrastructural racism built into the city, which started decades ago.
“The freeways were built on purpose very violently through Black and Brown, low-income, immigrant communities for years, and this was all Eisenhower era post World War II,” Cook said. “It’s also a part of white flight, so you create this system where white people can sort of leave the city, still work in it, or benefit from the amenities…without ever having to interact with the world around them.”
On another note, despite public concerns and rejection, TxDOT and construction contractors can’t see past their financial benefits.
“The only people I have ever talked to who want this project either don’t understand that wider highways mean more traffic or they stand to benefit financially,” Cook said. “And that has been very consistent in all of the interactions I’ve had in three years.”
In addition to community outrage, elected officials from the federal, state, and local governments have also spoken against the highway expansion.
Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee filed a lawsuit against the agency earlier this year on environmental concerns.
“Expanding I-45 in this project is a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand our region’s mobility. But we can’t allow TxDOT to cut corners and fail to live up to their duty to consider environmental impacts in this project,” Menefee said. The fight for justice doesn’t stop for the StopTxDOT I-45 organizers who plan to visit the Capitol on Thursday, June 23.
Photo: Kennedy Sessions / © Texas Signal Media Company