HOUSTON – The Texas Department of Transportation has given itself approval to move into the next phase of a $7.5 billion proposal to rebuild Interstate 45 in downtown Houston, despite community concerns that the highway expansion’s disadvantages outweigh its proposed benefits.
TxDOT announced a “record of decision” Thursday, a formality that moves the proposed expansion from the environmental phase to the design phase.
“The (record of decision) is a necessary step in moving into the detailed design phases of project development, which is where we will have the opportunity to fully explore many of the project refinements requested since the release of the Draft EIS and subsequent public hearings,” said TxDOT Houston District Engineer Eliza Paul.
While TxDOT said the step is an important one in its push to replace aging infrastructure and ease congestion in downtown Houston, critics blasted the move as aggressive.
“TxDOT is in a position where they are getting more antagonistic in how they approach handling the politics around this project,” said Harrison Humphreys, a transportation policy advocate for Air Alliance Houston.
The increased tension follows growing concerns from county and city leaders that TxDOT’s proposal is out of step with the region’s current needs -- a reality critics accuse TxDOT of ignoring.
“It’s sort of a pattern TxDOT has been taking, no pun intended, but our way or the highway,” Humphreys said. “If you want to continue to raise concerns about the displacements, about the environmental impacts, we will pull money from the region.”
According to TxDOT’s final environmental impact study: