Harris County sues TxDOT over I-45 overhaul proposal

I-45 view from above approaching downtown
The TxDOT I-45 project would reroute the highway away from Midtown through the East End and expand it through the Northside. (Nathan Colbert/Community Impact Newspaper)

The TxDOT I-45 project would reroute the highway away from Midtown through the East End and expand it through the Northside. (Nathan Colbert/Community Impact Newspaper)

Turning a new page in efforts to influence the Texas Department of Transportation’s planned $7 billion overhaul of I-45, Harris County officials are suing the agency in federal court.

On March 11, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and County Attorney Christian Menefee announced the action, which asks the court to revoke the agency's Record of Decision and to address concerns with the project. The lawsuit alleges that TxDOT failed to adequately consider the full environmental ramifications of the project in its Final Environmental Impact Statement, which is a federally required step.

“We’ve been good faith partners to TxDOT. We’ve done everything we could to move this project forward, but it has come time to pursue legal recourse,” Hidalgo told reporters.

The announcement comes after over a year of advocacy from various groups, such as the Make I-45 Better Coalition and Stop TxDOT I-45. Both have expressed concern over the impact of the project on neighborhoods in the East End and Northside of Houston where the proposed reroute and expansion of I-45 will displace over 900 residences, 300 businesses, five places of worship and two schools, according to the agency’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Local officials have repeatedly made attempts to influence the project. Beginning in 2019, the city of Houston led a separate public input process, which resulted in proposed alternatives to the plan, including one in which the 1960s-era highway would be upgraded for safety improvements but maintain its current footprint.


A representative from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's office declined to comment on the county-led lawsuit.

After the agency’s Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued in September 2020, critics of the plan noted that it failed to incorporate many of the recommendations identified through the city’s public input process.

“The FEIS is 8,189 pages across three volumes. That would be impossible to read in the 30 days. At first glance, we don’t see any major changes, especially ones of the magnitude that Mayor [Sylvester] Turner identified,” Link Houston Director Oni Blair said after the reports’ 30-day public input process began in September. Link Houston, a nonprofit, advocates for equity in transportation policy.

Proponents of the project have said it will ease congestion, particularly for commuters, update the highway's safety and mitigate flooding issues along its path.

Recently, efforts by the leaders of the Houston-Galveston Area Transportation Policy Council, a regional group responsible for contributing a portion of funds to the project, failed to produce an agreement with TxDOT about how to prioritize feedback on the project.

Throughout the process, TxDOT officials have said they will continue to accept and incorporate feedback.

“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 about implementing the HGAC’s vision for I-45,” TxDOT Executive Director James Bass wrote in a statement to Community Impact Newspaper.

Those efforts, however, have failed to reassure county leaders, Hidalgo said.

“We have convened meetings. We’ve proposed a memorandum of understanding," she said. "Time after time, TxDOT has done nothing but given us and our community lip service. They have bulldozed over us,” Hidalgo said.

On Feb. 4, the Texas Department of Transportation issued its Record of Decision, signaling one of the final hurdles before construction can begin.

View the full text of the lawsuit here.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.