Last month, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) made public two letters reiterating their earlier pause order on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP). The letters firmly clarify that TxDOT should not advance with any aspect of the I-45 Expansion project, including voluntary property acquisition and contracting for final design while the FHWA investigates the civil rights and environmental justice complaints raised by advocates, community members as well as Harris County officials.
These letters, one addressed to TxDOT and the other to Harris County, were a follow-up to the FHWA’s request to TxDOT in March to pause construction. Despite being requested to halt all project activities, AAH and partners received word that community members were still receiving relocation assistance notices from TxDOT, and so we sent a follow-up letter to the FHWA asking for clarity on the pause request, noting that TxDOT continuing to move forward with property acquisition along the right of way seemed to be in violation of their directives. Shortly after, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee raised similar concerns with the federal officials.
”The letters confirm what we already knew,” said AAH’s Transportation Policy Advocate Harrison Humphreys in our statement about the reiterated pause order released on June 23. “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.”
In addition to insisting on the pause, the federal officials wrote that they share the concerns raised about the project. In the letter to TxDOT, FHWA Division Administrator Achille Alonzi explained that their agency was considering several options of recourse depending on the outcome of the investigation, including direct intervention or revoking TxDOT’s ability to self-certify on projects. This is great news since the federal officials are likely to be much stricter in their approach.
These are big wins and we would like to thank everyone who has pushed for more accountability from TxDOT. We wouldn’t be where we are without everyone’s tireless advocacy.
Heads-up: Public comment period about to open
We’ve come far but the work isn’t over yet. In their most recent move, the TxDOT Commissioners announced at their June 30 meeting that they will be using the public comment period on TxDOT’s Unified Transportation Plan, the state’s ten-year planning document, to take additional comments on the NHHIP. The 30-day public comment period will open Friday, July 9. We are working to find out more about the motivations behind this decision as no part of the project has significantly changed since the previous comment period, following the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement last year. We will be sharing more insight and in-depth comment guidance shortly and encourage residents to submit comments – stay tuned.