I-45 expansion in Houston offers little to numerous displaced residents, Texas Housers outlines in comments to TxDOT

The proposed expansion of I-45 in Houston, officially known as the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP), is a prime issue for Texas Housers. This Texas Department of Transportation project as currently proposed will displace thousands of residents, eliminate schools and businesses, and erase generations of Black history in neighborhoods like Independence Heights, all while leaving those who are not relocated during its construction uninformed to what is coming.

As TxDOT completes preparation of the draft technical reports — Community Impacts Assessment Technical Report and Draft Cumulative Impacts Technical Report — for the Final Environmental Impact Statement, both of these documents were made available to the public and TxDOT accepted comments on each individually. Texas Housers, along with several other organizations, have submitted comments to to TxDOT, both asking for clarification in their proposal and offering recommendations to limit the scope of its destructive impact. Much of the proposal does not explain the extended impact of the NHHIP to Houstonians in its path who are low-income people of color, non-English speakers, people with disabilities, and those who belong to other marginalized communities.

Our comments outline three main concerns: our disapproval for the NHHIP by design which paves over a community, it exacerbates Houston’s housing crisis and transit issues, and it will impact low-income people of color with very little consideration or concession to their daily lives.

The first issue to address with the NHHIP is that this expansion is another in a long history of highway expansion choosing poor neighborhoods of color to erode in the name of progress. This has been documented for decades, dating back to the introduction of the interstate highway, and in more than half a century, very little has changed. The I-45 expansion is on track to displace thousands, and even after its projected conclusion, there isn’t a clear demonstration from TxDOT on these residents’ right to return, or if their neighborhood will resemble anything close to its original form.

There are long-term holistic effects to physically breaking and uprooting a neighborhood. A community’s survival is dependent on its access to resources and ability to congregate and empower one another. To disseminate these neighbors through smaller and separate spaces is to take their power away. TxDOT has not demonstrated an understanding to why it is important that these neighborhoods be kept intact.

Our second concern is if all of these people must leave for the sake of this expansion, where is the consideration to where they will go? From our comments:

Potential replacement housing was identified using comparable appraised values of homes being displaced, but the    identification of replacement housing ought to include the following factors in addition to appraised value: 
- Access to public transit
- Proximity to schools and other public resources
- The 3-5 mile geographic area for replacement housing could take people all the way across Houston and impact        peoples’ jobs, school enrollment, and family connectivity. That area is too big to be “comparable;” the displaced          person should determine how far they are willing to move and TxDOT should accommodate those needs.
- Same number of bedrooms
- Access to comprehensive healthcare services including family medicine and emergency medical services.

Just one of these metrics being taken away from a family is something that could make a major difference in its well-being. With an upheaval as fundamental as outlined with the I-45 expansion, this would exacerbate the burden on those in Houston’s already lacking affordable housing market.

Lastly, as this process steamrolls along, there needs to be far more consideration for those who will be directly affected by the logistics of what is happening. Houston hosts the most diverse county in the nation, yet very little has been taken into account with regard to language accessibility in NHHIP’s potential rollout. Resources like the reports themselves, websites, public meetings and much more aren’t offered in Spanish — a language spoken by hundreds of thousands of residents in the city — let alone other necessary languages.

These are just a few of our concerns for this major project that will have effects that could last decades. 

We have embedded our comments in full below and made each available for download.