On Tuesday, the Texas Department of Transportation Commission (TxDOT) voted unanimously to approve the Unified Transportation Program, a 10-year and $85.1 billion highway expansion plan, despite Texans’ widespread opposition.
According to the UTP report by TxDOT, the program emphasizes expanding highways, freeways, and roads instead of focusing on improving all forms of transportation. Reports also show Texas leads the nation in traffic deaths, with at least one person dying every day on the road since 2000.
Organizations including StopTxDOT I-45, Link_Houston, the Hoochies of Houston, Rethink35, Air Alliance Houston, More Neighbors Dallas, Farm and City, Our Afrikan Family, Texas Housers, and more testified in the public hearing to voice their concerns.
Community members from all over the state, including Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, and El Paso, highlighted the environmental, racial, and social injustices a billion-dollar highway expansion project would have on their area.
“If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, the Texas transportation system is insane,” Bob Storch, El Paso resident, said at a press conference in front of TxDOT headquarters.“We have to got to stop building highways; it will never stop congestion.”
In addition to potential environmental impacts, including pollution and flooding, the state agency’s plan will displace thousands of Texans’ homes, schools, churches, businesses, community centers, and more.
Texas Transportation Commissioners voted in favor of the program even though the U.S. Federal Highway Administration paused the project in March for possible civil rights violations and environmental concerns.
The hashtag #FreedomNotFreeways went viral on Twitter after Texans expressed their vision of an improved transportation system. Most tweets were a better public transportation system, walkability around their areas, less car dependency, and safe bike lanes.
Moreover, many organizers highlighted how according to studies where we can expect more natural disasters and extreme weather, more concrete shouldn’t be the answer.
“More concrete means less grass to soak up the water, so we will be flooding,” Houston native Sandra Edwards said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out; it doesn’t take someone with a degree to figure that out; it’s common sense.”
Nonetheless, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also released a statement celebrating the approval.
“TxDOT’s 2023 Unified Transportation Program is a critical step toward addressing the diverse needs of Texans in rural, urban, and metropolitan communities,” Abbott said. “This 10-year plan to address transportation needs statewide and dedicate $85 billion to improve roadways will be a huge boon to our state’s infrastructure and booming economy. As more people move to Texas and businesses grow across the state, we are working together to make sure Texans’ transportation safety and mobility are secured, and businesses can flourish for generations to come.
Kennedy is a recent graduate of the University of St.Thomas in Houston where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Celt Independent. Kennedy brings her experience of writing about social justice issues to the Texas Signal where she serves as our Political Reporter. She does everything from covering crime beats, Texas politics, and community activism. Kennedy is a passionate reporter, avid reader, coffee enthusiast, and loves to travel.