Proponents of the plan say the 1960s-era highway’s design is overdue for safety improvements and causes traffic congestion and flooding issues. However, the project has been met with increasingly high-level scrutiny.
TxDOT’s 10-year statewide plan for infrastructure projects, known as the Unified Transportation Plan, is revised annually. During this period officials present the plan to the public and accept feedback.
Texas Transportation Commission officials at their June 30 meeting said the UTP comment period will serve as another opportunity to collect feedback on the I-45 project while it is on hold due to a Harris County-led lawsuit and a federal inquiry into potential Civil Rights Act violations.
The UTP comment period begins July 7 and ends Aug. 6. Two virtual presentations of the statewide plan will take place at 3 p.m. on July 7 and Aug. 6.
County Attorney Christian Menefee filed a lawsuit against TxDOT March 11, alleging the agency failed to properly incorporate extensive public comment into the project’s final design.
“We were looking forward to continuing our work with stakeholders on refining the plans for the project, but these plans may now be in jeopardy due to the lawsuit. We look forward to discussing our efforts to mitigate concerns,” TxDOT Executive Director James Bass wrote in a statement to Community Impact Newspaper following the lawsuit’s filing.
Hidalgo, citing concerns from advocacy groups such as Stop TxDOT I-45, said the plan continues a trend of highway expansions disrupting predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Houston. As currently designed, the overhaul would re-route the roadway away from Midtown and expand it through the East End, Fifth Ward and Northside.
“We have convened meetings. We’ve proposed a memorandum of understanding. Time after time, TxDOT has done nothing but give us and our community lip service. They have bulldozed over us,” Hidalgo said when the lawsuit was filed.
As currently proposed, the project will displace over 900 residences, 300 businesses, five places of worship and two schools, according to the agency’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.
Editor's note: this article has been updated to clarify details of Harris County's lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation.