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Houston’s biggest road projects: The North Houston Highway Improvement Project

North Houston Highway Improvement Project
North Houston Highway Improvement Project

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) is slated to be the biggest construction project in a generation in the Houston area. The scope of the project is huge. It entails widening the North Freeway, I-45, from the North Sam Houston Tollway to Downtown Houston.

The project is intended to help Houston deal with its expanding population and continually greater infrastructure needs. The project will improve safety and efficiency along this portion of I-45. It is designed to reduce traffic bottlenecks, increase average speed during times of high volume, and reduce vehicle crashes.

NHHIP is divided into three segments, will take well over a decade to complete once construction begins, and will cost at least seven billion dollars. Currently, the project is in the design phase. That includes incorporating environmental impact study results and public feedback into the design to maximize the intended benefits and minimize any negative impacts that the completed freeway will have on the community.

Construction on the freeway reconstruction will commence when the final Environmental Impact Study is approved and corresponding design is given the green light by the federal government.

North Houston Highway Improvement Project Segments 1, 2 and 3.
North Houston Highway Improvement Project Segments 1, 2 and 3.

Segment 1:

Segment 1 of this project includes the stretch of freeway between the IH-610 North Loop and the North Sam Houston Tollway. The project includes widening the freeway and adding lanes. This segment will be one of the last segments to be completed. Based on TxDOT information, the project will likely begin construction sometime in the next five to 10 years.

North Houston Highway Improvement Project Segment 1
North Houston Highway Improvement Project Segment 1

Segment 2:

This segment of the project includes the portion of the North Freeway between Downtown Houston and IH-610. Segment 2 includes a rebuild of the interchange between IH-45 and the IH-610 North Loop in addition to the widening and addition of lanes to the freeway along the length of this segment. As with Segment 1, Segment 2 is scheduled to commence construction within the next five to 10 years.

Segment 2
Segment 2

Segment 3:

Segment 3 is scheduled to be the first segment to begin construction. It encompasses the portion of I-45 immediately around Downtown Houston. It is the most expensive segment of the overall project and includes the most drastic changes to the existing freeway configuration. Essentially, the entire stretch of freeway surrounding downtown would be rebuilt, from Spur 527 on the south to the I-45/I-10 Interchange to the north. That includes the four major interchanges around the city’s core and 12 miles of freeway!

Segment 3:  The current portion of freeways around Downtown Houston slated to be rebuilt.
Segment 3: The current portion of freeways around Downtown Houston slated to be rebuilt.

The proposed redesign will eliminate the Pierce Elevated Freeway, the portion of I-45 that runs parallel to Pierce Street on the southwest side of Downtown Houston, between the Downtown and Midtown neighborhoods. The proposed route takes I-45 around the east side of downtown, parallel to I-69, the Eastex Freeway.

According to TxDOT, the change in layout is intended to improve traffic flow in several ways:

  • Increase the free flow speed of cars by at least 20 miles per hour to a limit of 55 mph, based on 2045 projected traffic volumes.
  • Achieve a 50% reduction in delays.
  • Improve sight distances around curves that would improve safety on the freeway.
  • Reduce the amount of weaving on the freeway.
  • Reduce vehicle crashes, including fatal crashes, by over 50%.

Segment 3 would also include an expansion of pedestrian and bike facilities consistent with the City of Houston bike plan.

Construction on Segment 3 could begin in 2022, or earlier if project approval is expedited.

From TxDOT:  The proposed Segment 3 design re-routes I-45 around the east side of downtown.
From TxDOT: The proposed Segment 3 design re-routes I-45 around the east side of downtown.

Construction on the massive, expansive North Houston Highway Improvement Project has not yet begun. But when it does, it will impact the lives of many Houstonians and travelers passing through the Metro Houston area. Yes, there will be headaches and inconveniences as the freeway improvements are implemented over the span of several years. But, like other huge freeway expansion/improvement projects in the Houston area in recent years, the finished project is designed to make sure the city’s infrastructure will stand up to the ever-growing demands placed on it. For more information on the project, visit the TxDOT’s NHHIP web page or the City of Houston Planning Department’s NHHIP page.


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