Officials with the Texas Department of Transportation will host a series of public meetings in December related to the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, a $9 billion project that involves widening portions of I-45 North and redesigning parts of the road infrastructure in Downtown Houston.

Project officials gave an update on the project and its timeline at a Nov. 9 meeting of the city of Houston's Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure committee.

What's happening

The project involves adding four managed express lanes on I-45 from downtown Houston to Beltway 8 North as well as rerouting I-45 to be parallel with I-10 on the north side of downtown and west of I-69.

Other elements of the project include bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure along frontage roads and cross streets; new trails parallel to bayous; and flood control elements. It also would bring the highway up to federal safety standards, according to TxDOT.

The backstory

Development of the I-45 expansion has been underway since 2002. TxDOT issued a record of decision on the project in early 2021, setting the stage for construction to begin. However, opposition to the project grew over concerns that its negative effects—including displacement of homes, and noise and vehicle pollution at nearby communities—disproportionately affected communities of color.

Harris County filed a lawsuit to halt the project over its environmental impacts, and the Federal Highway Administration opened a Title VI investigation into the project in 2021.

In December 2022, TxDOT finalized a memorandum of understanding with Houston and Harris County on the project, and the county dropped its lawsuit in January. On March 5, TxDOT signed a voluntary resolution agreement with the FHWA that allowed the project to proceed with right-of-way acquisition and utility relocations, and laying out certain requirements for how TxDOT needs to carry out work. No Title VI violations were found.

Zooming in

Grady Mapes, director of the TxDOT Houston District Comprehensive Development Agreements program, spoke about the project at the Nov. 9 TTI meeting.

Under the voluntary resolution agreement, Mapes said TxDOT must:
  • Meet monthly to discuss commitments in the agreement
  • Host public meetings twice annually
  • Mitigate the number of displacements, relocations and community impacts
  • Add drainage to reduce flooding, including the use of Atlas 14 data, which Mapes said resulted in "significant improvement over the previous drainage requirement"
  • Add parks, open space, trails, and pedestrian and bike facilities, which Mapes said were being planned out with city of Houston staff and stakeholders
  • Come up with a community access during construction for lane closures and detours to make sure people can still access essential services
  • Build structural highway caps, a kind of bridge built over a highway that can provide opportunities for park space and other amenities
  • Evaluate opportunities to reduce footprint in segments 1 and 2, which cover I-45 from Beltway 8 to around I-10
  • Air quality mitigation, including the use of an active monitoring station installed at I-69 and Hwy. 288
  • Take into account learning-English proficient needs for public engagement, including training for all TxDOT employees and consultants who interact with public during environmental and right-of-way processes
The latest

As of November, TxDOT crews are working on a detail design on the portion of the project covering the southern end of I-69, from Spur 527 to Hwy. 288.

Design work is also underway on a drainage outfall project under St. Emmanuel Street from McIlhenny Street to Buffalo Bayou and on the interchange reconstruction at I-69 and Hwy. 288. TxDOT is coordinating with the Harris County Flood Control District on the drainage work, which involves using a large detention pond that drains to Buffalo Bayou.

Most of segments in the Inner Loop are fully funded, Mapes said, including work on the I-10 corridor. The realignment of I-45 behind the George R. Brown Convention Center is partially funded, as is the segment of I-45 between I-10 and Loop 610 North. Projects outside of Loop 610 are unfunded.

Cap structures with parklike amenities are being planned at three locations, Mapes said:
  • At Caroline and Wheeler streets, which could be expanded to include San Jacinto and Austin streets
  • At Fannin Street where the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County light rail crosses
  • At Cleburne Street and Almeda Road
What they're saying

District I council member Robert Gallegos urged TxDOT to consider opportunities to build hike and bike trails that connect people to area bayous. He also suggested working with METRO to build dedicated bus rapid transit lanes to the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Mapes said the project involves building two high-occupancy vehicle lanes in both directions along I-45, but said TxDOT is not currently coordinating with METRO on bus rapid transit lanes.

Get involved

One virtual and one in-person public meeting will take place for each of the three segments.

Segment 3: Downtown roadways
  • Dec. 6: in-person at 5 p.m. at St. John's Downtown Church, 2019 Crawford St., Houston
  • Dec. 7: virtual meeting from 5-7 p.m.
Segment 2: I-45 from I-10 to Loop 610
  • Dec. 11: in-person at 5 p.m. at the Moody Community Center, 3725 Fulton St., Houston
  • Dec. 12: virtual meeting from 5-7 p.m.
Segment 1: I-45 from Loop 610 to Beltway 8
  • Dec. 14: in-person meeting at 5 p.m. at the Aldine Ninth Grade Center, 10650 North Freeway, Houston
  • Dec. 15: virtual meeting from 5-7 p.m.