USDOT and Harris County take action against TxDOT
You might have seen by now the big news that President Biden’s Department of Transportation has invoked the Civil Rights Act to pause the I-45 Expansion project after receiving complaints from us, allies and elected officials (you can find our letter here), and that locally, Harris County has filed a federal lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to halt the expansion plan.
These developments are a big deal to all of us, but especially to the communities along the corridor who have been raising their voices on this project for so long, and whom TxDOT has time and time again refused to listen to. Now, as our Transportation Policy Advocate Harrison Humphreys told Bloomberg CityLab, “we’re in a completely different ballgame.”
On March 31, we sent a follow-up letter to Secretary Buttigieg, asking that he ensures TxDOT meets the federal government’s call to pause the project, after learning that residents had continued to be contacted to negotiate property sales.
Divided regional leaders affirm support, but with a watered-down resolution
Meanwhile, after months-long negotiations between regional transportation officials and TxDOT about the objectives of the project and parameters of collaboration, the members of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s (H-GAC) Transportation Policy Council (TPC) narrowly approved a resolution on March 26, affirming that the I-45 Expansion remains a priority for the region.
However, this agreed-upon resolution – a vastly watered-down version of what was originally meant to be a binding agreement that commits TxDOT to exploring significant revisions – states little more than that the parties will continue to work together on the project. It does not advance or impede the project in any major way, nor does it change anyone’s responsibilities. It does, however, show just how divided the TPC is on this issue: It was passed solely with support from members representing suburban counties, while every single City, Harris County, Port Houston and METRO Houston representative opposed it.
You can take a look at our public comments given at the numerous H-GAC meetings here (See under “Learn More”).
TxDOT says their “hands are tied” – two Texas Legislature bills offer a solution!
Throughout this long process, TxDOT has repeatedly fallen back on the excuse that they can’t adopt local alternative visions for the project because their funds are restricted to building highways. The agency has continued to threaten to pull the $7 billion if it doesn’t get its way.
Houston-area lawmakers Rep. Armando Walle and Sen. Borris Miles have filed bills (SJR 40 & HJR 109) that would remove those barriers. By amending the constitution, the bills would open the door for TxDOT to spend money on multimodal infrastructure, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, buses and trains, that would reduce emissions, improve air quality and make communities safer, healthier and more connected.
These critical bills urgently need your voice. Please contact your lawmakers and ask them to help ensure they will be passed during this legislative session.