For Immediate Release
June 23, 2021
Contact: Riikka Pohjankoski, [email protected], 346-279-7000
Air Alliance Houston Statement on Federal Highway Administration’s I-45 Pause Directive
Our organization was grateful to learn this morning that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sent letters to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) clarifying the ‘pause’ order issued on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP), also known as the I-45 Expansion. The purpose of these letters was to clarify and reiterate the FHWA directive handed down in March of this year: that TxDOT should halt all project activities related to solicitation, land acquisition, and contract development for the NHHIP.
Our organization, along with several of our partner organizations and community groups, were alarmed to learn last month that TxDOT was forging ahead with land acquisition activities. On April 1, AAH sent a letter to FHWA asking for clarification on the ‘pause’ order. As we’ve learned, others, including Harris County officials, raised similar concerns to federal officials. We are thankful to Judge Hidalgo and Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee for remaining fierce advocates on behalf of people across the region who recognize the inherent injustices of TxDOT’s proposed project.
These letters confirm what we already knew: FHWA’s request to TxDOT to pause progress on the project was not a mere formality, but a clear directive based on a growing body of evidence that many aspects of this project are problematic and potentially destructive to Houston communities. As AAH has argued for years, TxDOT’s approach to community engagement and design development has been wholly insufficient. TxDOT has not engaged in meaningful community dialogue, has refused to consider any design alternatives that did not include the displacement of hundreds of residents and businesses, and has responded with hostility and threats to pull funding when local elected officials pushed back.
We’re encouraged by the FHWA’s response, but remain disconcerted by TxDOT’s cavalier attitude to major civil rights and environmental justice complaints – TxDOT spokesperson Bob Kaufman called the civil rights investigation an “expanded delay.” As such, we are pleased to know that FHWA is considering several options to remedy the situation, including revoking TxDOT’s ability to sign off on their own projects and intervening directly in the project.
-Harrison Humphreys, Transportation Policy Advocate, Air Alliance Houston