March 22, 2023
[email protected], 512-473-2800 ext. 106
Air Alliance Houston
[email protected], 713-589-7079
[email protected], 713-408-2395
[email protected], 713-906-8345
Stop TxDOT I-45
[email protected], 832-248-4405
HOUSTON —The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released the terms of its Voluntary Resolution Agreement (VRA) with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) regarding the planned North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP), better known as the I-45 expansion project on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. This ends the federal government’s investigation of the Title VI Civil Rights complaint filed by Air Alliance Houston, LINK Houston, Stop TxDOT I-45, Texas Appleseed, and Texas Housers in December 2021.
The U.S. Department of Transportation explicitly committed to end the shameful history of running federal highways through Black and Brown neighborhoods — which has destroyed the health, safety, homes, and businesses of these communities — and start to undo the harms caused by decades of discrimination. These promises gave Houstonians hope that their concerns would be taken seriously. But the VRA does not guarantee TxDOT will be held accountable for civil rights and environmental justice violations. On the community’s most critical demands, the VRA is vague and weak. To meet their stated ideals, the Biden administration must hold TxDOT’s feet to the fire.
The VRA between the two agencies includes increased transparency and reporting, firm deadlines for compliance, enhanced pedestrian access around schools, and requires TxDOT to take meaningful action to ensure its programs are accessible to Texans with limited English proficiency. It requires TxDOT to do additional public engagement and consider design changes that would reduce the project’s footprint in historical communities of color like Fifth Ward, Third Ward, and East End, which were entirely left out of Houston and Harris County’s unenforceable MOUs with TxDOT. These improvements were hard-fought, and additional oversight is welcome, but they do not address the root causes of environmental injustice, the insufficiency of TxDOT’s environmental impact studies, and the universally understood principle that wider highways cause worse traffic. The Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for TxDOT’s I-45 Expansion are fundamentally flawed.
This VRA does not address the underlying civil rights issues which were the entire basis for the Title VI complaint; communities of color will still be forced to bear the negative burdens of highway expansion for generations, including displacement, poor health, and an increased risk of death. For instance, instead of air filtration systems for schools or funding for asthma treatment, the VRA only increases air monitoring practices that will tell families what they already know: their air is unsafe, and it is getting worse. In both MOUs and the VRA, TxDOT agrees to study the feasibility of maintaining the current footprint of I-45, but TxDOT has for years consistently demonstrated their unwillingness to entertain any alternative that does not significantly widen the footprint. Houston still needs and deserves a project that actually addresses mobility concerns, prioritizes racial and environmental justice, reduces vehicle miles traveled in the region, improves safety, and reduces air pollution. Even with two MOUs and a VRA, this is not that project.
Improved transparency, additional public engagement, and twice-yearly reporting mandated by the FHWA will provide opportunities for the community to remain active in this project and for TxDOT to make substantive changes that address the negative impact of the I-45 Expansion on communities of color. We need the Biden administration to rigorously scrutinize TxDOT’s compliance with this VRA — especially regarding critical community demands like reducing the project footprint. Taking TxDOT at its word would be a dereliction of duty. We will continue to support the communities demanding justice and oppose all discriminatory actions by TxDOT.
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.
Texas Housers, incorporated in 1988 as Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, has worked for over 30 years with low-income Texans to achieve the American dream of a decent, affordable home in a quality neighborhood. In addition to advocating for affordable, high-quality housing, Texas Housers is committed to improving neighborhood equity by ensuring that all levels of government provide resources fairly and equitably in low-income neighborhoods and segregated neighborhoods of color, including spending for infrastructure improvements. For more information, visit www.texashousers.org.
Stop TxDOT I-45 is a community-based organization that challenges the status quo of transportation policy and fights for all people in Houston to be able to participate in the decisions that affect health, safety, and mobility in their communities. Stop was established in 2019 by residents affected by TxDOT’s planned expansion of I-45 N in Houston. For more information, visit www.stoptxdoti45.com.
Texas Appleseed advocates at the state and local level for fair, just, and equitable laws. Our work has shaped hundreds of laws and positively affected millions of Texans by breaking down barriers through transformative policy solutions. Visit www.TexasAppleseed.org for more information.
LINK Houston advocates for a robust and equitable transportation network so that all people can reach opportunity. Through data analysis and community engagement, we help shape transportation policies and investments. Learn more at www.linkhouston.org.