The Houston-based expansion of the Interstate-45 Highway has been in the works for decades, but the controversial project continues its lengthy delay as local activists remain steadfast in their opposition.
The operation has suffered numerous delays, most notably when the Federal Highway Administration ordered the pause of all planned construction in March of last year on the basis of civil rights and environmental concerns. While federal officials allowed a limited amount of construction to proceed in December 2021, the long-planned highway expansion remains in legal limbo.
In the meantime, the Stop TxDOT I-45 group, the most prominent activist organization opposing the project, continues to voice their ongoing criticisms of the project. “This is by far the biggest project the state of Texas has ever taken on,” volunteer Chloe Cook said in an interview with Houston’s ABC13. “TxDOT likes to talk about how its 20, 30, 40 years in the making at this point means that this project is already outdated. As a taxpayer, I would love to see my money used to fix what’s already there instead of rebuilding and expanding because the negative impacts are so huge.”
These negative impacts include the demolition of over 1,000 residences in predominantly low-income neighborhoods, further congestion from increased traffic, and the potential environmental effects of further investment in car infrastructure instead of ventures promoting less polluting, more carbon-efficient modes of transportation like trains, buses, and bicycles.
At the recent April 20 meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission, the group utilized the allotted public speaking time to criticize the Texas Department of Transportation’s lack of transparency or clear communication with inhabitants of the affected communities.
This included Fifth Ward occupant Parys Burks, who claimed that none of the information provided by TxDOT “seems to be reliable enough to uproot my family in order to make room for a freeway.”
“Why not put some effort and money into building up that community in a way that realistically helps people in that same community?” they said.
While these activist efforts have resulted in international attention from sources like The Guardian, the expansion still appears likely to commence due to the unfaltering support of Texas transportation leaders. That being said, actually starting construction will not come at an insignificant cost. As writer Dug Begley cited in the Houston Chronicle, the recently estimated $750 million price increase is the typical total cost for a major, years-long highway project. For the planned rebuild of I-45, that enormous number is just further inflation to a budget that has ballooned to a tremendous $9 billion.
“The rising costs are unfortunate as delay does not meet anyone’s goals,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has raised issues with the project but ultimately supports its undertaking.
As the fight continues though, the Biden Administration is taking notice of activists’ efforts to convince transportation officials to shift the course of Texas transportation towards a more equitable, environmentally-friendly one.“It’s always good for states and local communities to be listening to each other,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a March interview with the Texas Tribune. “I certainly think that’s been an important part of what there’s been a call for in the case of Houston and I-45. I think those things are part of what can arise when a community feels that it needs to take that step in order to assert its rights.”