HOUSTON – After years of negotiations, the Federal Highway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation signed a Voluntary Resolution Agreement to resolve the FHWA Title VI investigation of the I-45 North Houston Highway Improvement Project and lift FHWA’s pause on the project, according to a release.
The agreement will take significant steps to address the project’s impact on the community and provide clear timelines that will be monitored by FHWA, including detailed design, stakeholder engagement, affordable housing initiatives, right-of-way acquisition, flood mitigation and construction activities, the release stated.
The FHWA concluded its review of TxDOT’s responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act with no findings.
The actions in the Voluntary Resolution Agreement will be performed in compliance with the mitigation actions already committed to by TxDOT, as contained within the Record of Decision, including:
- Twice Annual Public Meetings through Design and Construction;
- Mitigating Displacements, Relocations, Housing, and Other Community Impacts;
- Drainage Improvements to Reduce Flooding;
- Parks, Open Space, Trails, Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities;
- Community Access During Construction;
- Highway “Footprint” Reduction;
- Structural Highway Caps;
- Air Quality Mitigation; and
- Meaningful Access for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).
“This agreement moves forward an important project, responds to community concerns, and improves the North Houston Highway Improvement Project in ways that will make a real difference in people’s lives. Through this agreement the community will have a greater voice in the design and throughout the project’s life cycle,” said Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt. “We have lifted the pause, and with FHWA oversight, TXDOT may proceed with design and construction.”
The $9 billion North Houston Highway Improvement Project is designed from IH 45 North Corridor from Beltway 8 North to and around Downtown Houston. It will provide connectivity for residents and businesses within and beyond the State of Texas.
“This portion of I-45 was built in stages in the 1950s and 1960s and the design remained essentially the same while the area population has doubled,” stated Marc Williams, TxDOT executive director. “The reconstruction of I-45 will address mobility needs for people and freight, while also improving safety and a number of environmental mitigations that include critical measures to improve storm water drainage. Considering the recently executed agreements with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County, and now the FHWA, we are excited to get this critical infrastructure project moving with our partnering agencies.”
In December, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the city of Houston and the Texas Department of Transportation reached a common ground after two years of discussions.
As part of the agreement, Turner signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TxDOT, which will help advance the I-45 North Houston Highway Improvement Project.
“After years of negotiations, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project can now be the project Houston deserves it to be,” Turner said. “A project that addresses I-45′s repeated flooding while maximizing the opportunities for people to stay in their homes and neighborhoods. It is a project that helps people and goods travel through the region while encouraging people to travel between our neighborhoods without impacting them. A project that can help knit back together our downtown and improve the air we all breathe. I thank the many project partners and stakeholders that have brought us to the point, including FHWA, TxDOT, Harris County, METRO, and especially our residents.”
LINK Houston released the following statement:
“We expected the federal government to maximize its leverage over TxDOT to push for a fairer and more equitable North Houston Highway Improvement Project, however we are encouraged to see that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will hold TxDOT accountable in ways that the City of Houston and Harris County memorandums of understanding cannot.
The Voluntary Resolution Agreement (VRA)’s compliance provisions seem much more robust, with firm deadlines and expectations, and are enforceable as the federal government has authority over TxDOT. LINK Houston will review the VRA fully over the next few days and continue to act as a watchdog over this process in the months and years ahead.
FHWA’s release of the VRA concludes the Title VI Civil Rights complaint regarding the proposed I-45 expansion filed by LINK Houston, Air Alliance Houston, Texas Appleseed, and Texas Housers in December 2021. Our civil rights complaint outlined TxDOT’s historic and continuing pattern of destroying the health, safety, homes, and businesses of Black and Brown populations in Houston by building and expanding highways through their generational neighborhoods.
To truly reconnect communities and build a more sustainable and equitable nation, the Biden administration must ensure that transportation policies and projects promote accessibility as well as racial and environmental justice. The federal government must hold TxDOT accountable to that standard. Without accountability and active oversight, TxDOT will continue causing maximum harm to communities already exploited by previous highway expansions.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee released the following statement:
“First, I would like to thank the County Judge, the Mayor and Council Members, Commissioners and County Attorney for their hard work. The U.S. Department of Transportation has now finalized its agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) on the communities’ Title VI complaints regarding the fairness and equity of the I-45 project.
“In the review given to me by the U.S. Federal Highway Administrator, it is evident that the detailed work and efforts made by the U.S. Department of Transportation to ensure enforcement of provisions that will provide a better quality of life, a better project and a better response to the needs of our communities in the path of I-45 County Attorney for their hard work in answering the community’s concerns highway project was done carefully to answer any number of urgent concerns among others, air quality, housing loss, impact on parks and historic trails and signs, access during construction, and responsiveness to ongoing problems of the community in the I-45 transportation project.
“I have worked on this issue from its beginning as I sought to represent constituents’ views that there must be a better way, a smaller footprint, a better design, and an elimination of the huge destruction of housing. I approached the U.S. Department of Transportation as TxDOT began to try to explain the project. I am grateful for the attention that the U.S. Department of Transportation gave, and I am grateful to the community members and organizations who appropriately filed a Title VI complaint. Following the submission of those complaints, the Federal Highway Administration followed best practices to answer the concerns. However, we all remain cautious and diligent in determining TxDOT’s compliance.
“So, I was particularly glad that the Federal Highway Administration listened and put in very strong enforcement elements between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice. The agreement includes required public meetings every year. It requires an Ombudsman to be established so that all the aspects of the agreement will be noticed and remembered and that TxDOT will have to comply based upon the enforcement mechanism. Additionally, we are glad for required public meetings. Our work is not completed. I will remain available to my constituents.”