Harris County will be pausing its federal lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation over its I-45 expansion project after a unanimous Commissioners Court vote Nov. 15—but only temporarily while county officials attempt to negotiate with the department.
“I hope that this will lead us to the point of mutual respect and open communication and negotiation for the betterment of our community to ensure that we are working in a spirit of transparency and openness with our collective partners," Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said during the Nov. 15 meeting.
Harris County’s lawsuit against TxDOT was announced March 11 amid concerns over the planned $7 billion expansion of I-45, dubbed the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper. The lawsuit was not supported by Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey or Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. Both voted in favor of the temporary stay Nov. 15.
“As someone who has regularly voted on the two side of 3-2 [votes] of whether we should go forward with this litigation, I commend the effort to try to negotiate,” Cagle said.
County Attorney Christian Menefee will negotiate the temporary stay, asking for 30 days to communicate with TxDOT. The stay can be extended another 30 days, should the county opt to continue negotiations, according to a Nov. 15 press release from Menefee’s office.
However, the commissioners’ motion to pause the lawsuit does not mean the county is dismissing the lawsuit, Menefee said in the press release.
“The pause is a show of good faith by the county to remind TxDOT that we’re in this to find solutions and address community concerns,” Menefee said in a statement. “We expect TxDOT to work alongside us to achieve the same. If that does not happen, the county will resume the suit, and we’ll let the courts decide.”
TxDOT’s I-45 project, which would widen parts of the interstate near downtown Houston to Beltway 8, sparked concerns about the effect on residents living in the area. More than 1,000 homes would be displaced by the project, according to Menefee’s office.
“In designing the NHHIP, TxDOT failed to follow federal law and properly consider air quality, flood mitigation, and other impacts on communities, schools, etc. near the segments of the highway that will be widened," Menefee’s press release said.
During the Nov. 15 special meeting, multiple members of the public spoke in favor of the county’s lawsuit and expressed concerns over TxDOT’s planned project.
“Communities, and mainly communities of color, will be impacted by the expansion,” Houston resident Erin Ereksen said. “I implore this body to remain constant with its litigation to ensure that the needs of community members are heard over the ones of special interest and power.”