$9B I-45 expansion back on with community accommodation

By Larry StewartMarch 08, 2023

(Image: Texas Department of Transportation)

A $9 billion Interstate-45 expansion project in Houston got the green light after the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration memorialized solutions to communite concerns in a Voluntary Resolution Agreement.

The agreement resolves the FHWA Title VI investigation of the I-45 North Houston Highway Improvement Project and lifts FHWA’s pause on the project. By it, the agencies commit to foundational elements of a memorandum of understandings between the City of Houston, Harris County and TxDOT designed to address project impacts to the community and provide clear enforceable timelines that will be monitored by FHWA as TxDOT proceeds.

“After years of negotiations, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project can now be the project Houston deserves it to be, a project that addresses I-45’s repeated flooding while maximizing the opportunities for people to stay in their homes and neighborhoods,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, in a statement on this week’s agreement. “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.”

Actions prescribed in the new agreement will be performed in addition to and/or in compliance with the mitigation actions already committed to by TxDOT, include:

  • 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
  • meaningful access for persons with limited English proficiency

“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 I-45 expansion will reconstruct the Interstate between Houston’s downtown and the North Sam Houston Tollway to bring the roadway up to federal safety standards and enhance mobility. Improvements also include increased modal options through four non-tolled managed lanes, bicycle and pedestrian features along frontage roads and cross streets, and trails parallel to bayous within the right of way. Detention ponds, pump stations and other flood mitigation tools are also included in the project. Air quality will also benefit from less congested traffic and idling cars along with various project mitigations.

“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,” said 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.”

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