For Immediate Release
August 31, 2021
Media contact: Riikka Pohjankoski, [email protected], 713.589.7079
This morning, the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) announced that the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) would remain in their ten-year budget, signaling their continuing support for the controversial project.
As we’ve explained prior, this decision follows the TTC’s threat to pull project funding from the region in retaliation to the civil rights and environmental justice concerns raised by community members, advocates, and elected officials. During their July meeting, the TTC Chair Bruce Bugg announced that they would be seeking additional public input on the project given the number of objections raised; when TxDOT released the comment form for Texans to weigh in on this issue, only two options were given: support TxDOT’s design of the project, or no project at all. This false framing of the issue, along with the discriminatory language and methods used within the survey and during the public engagement process, was a clear attempt by the TTC to intimidate Houstonians from demanding a better project.
The TTC’s decision should not come as a surprise. Few saw this additional input period as a genuine public engagement attempt. The Commissioners’ announcement today and the discussion that took place confirms what our organization already suspected – this was a transparent effort to manufacture a false sense of support for the project. In the past two years, the TTC has ignored the repeated requests of numerous City Council members, County Commissioners, State Representatives and State Senators, and even Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia, who all represent the areas the proposed project would impact, to consider alternative designs for the NHHIP. The City of Houston conducted a year-long public engagement process to develop potential alternatives, alternatives that were endorsed by a majority of each municipal body, which TxDOT refused to consider. Despite every other clear indication of lack of support for this project, the TTC will now use results from a broken poll to claim popular legitimacy.
Ultimately, today’s decision does not change much regarding how this project moves forward. Funding for this project was already allocated; the TTC’s announcement just confirms this funding. TxDOT still refuses to engage with affected communities, advocates, or local representatives on designing an improved project. More importantly, TxDOT is still being actively investigated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for civil rights violations within the NHHIP design; TxDOT is prohibited from moving forward with any aspect of this project until this investigation is complete. Today’s announcement does not affect this investigation, nor does it rectify the inherently destructive and unsustainable aspects of this project. Bugg concluded his announcement with a 90-day deadline to revisit the project, warning that if the FHWA investigation was not concluded by then, the TTC would reconsider killing the project. Bugg also stated that it was up to the region to come to a consensus on the design. Our organization is dismayed that a state commissioner would attempt to put an arbitrary deadline on a federal investigation into his own agency. Furthermore, it’s infuriating that TxDOT is once again shirking responsibility by blaming the region for failing to come to a consensus; local elected officials have made their requests known, it’s TxDOT who has refused to come to the negotiating table. Air Alliance Houston will continue advocating to transform this project into one that is sustainable, equitable, and actually meets the needs of our diverse region.
– Harrison Humphreys, Transportation Program Manager, Air Alliance Houston
Air Alliance Houston is a non-profit advocacy organization working to reduce the public health impacts from air pollution and advance environmental justice through applied research, education, and advocacy. For more information and resources, please visit www.airalliancehouston.org.