HOUSTON – The proposed I-45 expansion project is set to solve Houston’s biggest congestion problems from the Southwest Freeway up to the North Beltway, with work broken down into three segments.
This project has proven to be controversial as the Texas Department of Transportation plans to expand a vital part of I-45.
In terms of where the project stands today, Mayor Turner has submitted a formal letter to TXDOT asking them to review several key points in the project’s design. We’re also still waiting for a final draft of the environmental impact statement from TXDOT, which they say we should see by the end of this summer. After that comes the “record of decision” which just means, the project design plan is finalized, no more changes can be made and TXDOT can start building.
The main reason why a major transformation of a major corridor is happening is because as the population increases, so do the transportation demands on our roads.
The North Freeway expansion promises a smoother commute and green space which is often referred to as the “Central Park of Houston.”
This part of the project is Segment three, located near Minute Maid Park. TXDOT refers to this segment as their current plan to detangle downtown. Improvements to this part of town includes doubling the freeway size, which in turn increases the number of cars moving through downtown.
TXDOT is working in descending order, starting with segment three and ending with segment one. Segment one completes work on the North Freeway near the North Beltway. Segment two the section in between those areas improving the North Freeway from Interstate 10 up to the North Loop.
The project plan seems to excite some Houstonians, but others say these improvements will come at a cost much higher than the estimated $7 billion.
When speaking to Air Alliance, they say TXDOT’s environmental impact study suggests those improvements would have no negative impact on the environment. Though according to Harrison Humphreys, Air Alliance’s Transportation Policy Advocate that was a look at a regional level, "...on the local level, we looked at air quality, flooding, pedestrian and bike safety and according to our health assessment, significant impacts would be felt on the local level.”
Organizations like Air Alliance Houston also say the project doesn’t include enough public transportation improvements. Though, according to Danny Perez with TXDOT The Red Line which opened in 2004 and was expanded in 2013 from UH-Downtown to Northline Transit Center, north of 610, serves as a solution in the area.
Aside from the potential environmental impact, businesses in the area near Minute Maid Park will have to relocate. We’re talking about places like Ahh Coffee and Warehouse Live. Many have already been given an offer from TXDOT and more businesses expect buyout letters in June.
This version of the design plan also calls for the removal of Kelly and Clayton Homes government housing east of downtown.
Mayor Turner wants TXDOT to make sure any displaced residents can find housing in the same area and feels they should provide grants to develop affordable housing. They can do so by visiting this website TXDOT has on their project design site.
TXDOT wrote to Mayor Turner saying this project:
“... is essential to meeting current and future transportation demands in our region and that we collectively have an opportunity to advance a project that will be positively transformative for our city.”
Traffic Expert Anavid Reyes spoke with the Texas Department of Transportation and Air Alliance of Houston for the information in this story.