HOUSTON – Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and County Attorney Christian Menefee held a Wednesday media briefing to discuss the I-45 expansion project.
During the conference, they announced that the federal government has again asked the Texas Department of Transportation to halt work on the project.
Hidalgo said the county has pleaded with the leadership at TxDOT to alter the I-45 expansion project, arguing that the project will not address the county’s traffic problems, it will displace vulnerable communities, and it will negatively impact the region’s air quality.
“Our community deserves an I-45 project,” Hidalgo said. “The current highway is not adequate. But we also need a project that respects the wishes of the community, that is forward-thinking in terms of transportation policy so we can keep the region competitive.
“Under law, TxDOT is required to incorporate community input and to incorporate environmental concerns into their design. Unfortunately, after many meetings and conversations and community output and information, those concerns have fallen on deaf ears.”
Earlier this year, county officials filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging TxDOT. Hidalgo said the lawsuit would require TxDOT to take community and environmental concerns into account regarding the freeway expansion. Shortly after, the federal government asked TxDOT to halt the project over concerns the Civil Rights Act may have been violated.
Despite intervention from the federal government, TxDOT continued moving forward with the project, Hidalgo said.
During the media briefing Wednesday, Hidalgo said the county received a letter stating that the federal government has again asked TxDOT to pause work on the project.
“The letter we received from the Biden Administration makes clear that when they said to TxDOT pause the project while we review civil rights concerns, they meant pause the project,” Hidalgo said. “Second, the letter says that they have also informed TxDOT that they share, the Biden Administration, shares the concerns that we had about TxDOT’s lack of engagement with the community violating the national environmental protection act.
“The message from the Biden Administration to TXDOT is very clear -- You can’t bulldoze your way through a massive infrastructure project without community input, without considering smarter transportation options and you can’t bulldoze your way through the civil rights act,” Hidalgo said.
Below is TxDOT’s statement on the FHWA letter regarding the NHHIP:
“We have received the letter from the FHWA and are reviewing the FHWA requests. It’s unfortunate there is an expanded delay on this project, but TxDOT remains fully committed to working with FHWA and local officials on an appropriate path forward. We know that many in the community are anxious to see this project advance. This FHWA action indefinitely suspends key steps for this project.”
– Bob Kaufman, Chief Communications Officer