New report around TxDOT’s proposed I-45 expansion calls for implementation of mitigation strategies to protect community health

For immediate release

PRESS RELEASE: New report around TxDOT’s proposed I-45 expansion calls for implementation of mitigation strategies to protect community health

Air Alliance Houston, partners, release results of a Health Impact Assessment of TxDOT’s NHHIP

HOUSTON – Thursday, June 13, 2019 – The impending I-45 expansion, or the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) as proposed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), has the potential to harm community health if mitigation strategies are not put in place by the state agency, according to a new Health Impact Assessment (HIA) led by Air Alliance Houston and funded by the Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Released at a press conference held Thursday at City Hall, the report indicates that if strategies are not put in place, children going to school along the I-45 corridor may experience increased exposure to harmful air pollution and decreased safety as they walk and/or bike to school.

“If this project moves forward as currently designed, TxDOT should be required to mitigate for the potential adverse health impacts to children and the surrounding communities,” said Dr. Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston. “Equally important is for TxDOT to discontinue the legacy of treating communities of color and low-income neighborhoods as collateral damage. Displacing residents and destroying historical cultural landmarks for the sake of widening a highway, which will eventually meet the same fate of gridlock as the Katy Freeway, reflects outdated thinking and bears a tragic resemblance to inequitable transportation decisions from the past.  We are asking that TxDOT include the report in its final environmental impact statement and commit to the implementation of the recommendations.”

The assessment represents eight months of examining data and engagement with stakeholders and community members to evaluate the potential health impacts of the I-45 expansion. The assessment focused on potential air quality, mobility, and flooding impacts at nine priority school campuses along the I-45 corridor.

The assessment shows that the expansion would bring at least 26 existing school and daycare campuses within 500 feet of the highway, a distance that research has associated with increased risks of asthma, impaired lung development, and childhood leukemia. The assessment included modeling air emissions around the nine campuses and found that concentrations of benzene, a chemical compound known to cause cancer, could rise up to 175 percent at some of the schools along the corridor.

In addition, the assessment reveals that TxDOT’s current design will expand the width and increase the speed of cars traveling down the access road, exacerbating safety concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists, many of whom are schoolchildren. “TxDOT must address safety and mobility concerns for everyone on and around the highway,” said Oni Blair, Executive Director of LINK Houston. “For people crossing at underpasses to reach homes and shops on either side of I-45, children who walk or bike to schools with attendance zones that extend on both sides of I-45, people using the bus stops along the access road, as well as people traveling great distances in their cars on the highway.”

Some schools along the I-45 are also prone to flooding and the urban heat island effect. The planned expansion of the freeway could aggravate these problems with more impermeable concrete surfaces. Beyond these concerns, increased noise and decreased access to greenspace could further compromise health and quality of life in these communities.

To better protect community health, the report includes recommendations for TxDOT such as:

  1. Provide funding for the installation of air monitors at sensitive receptors, such as schools, parks, and playgrounds, and for the ongoing installation of HEPA (high efficiency) filters within buildings with sensitive occupants within 500 ft. of the highway.
  2. Provide funding for constructing all highway crossings in accordance with Complete Streets principles to protect and promote pedestrians and bicyclists.
  3. Comply with the new Harris County and City of Houston design standard of 500-year flood events, rather than 100-year events, to mitigate flood risks.
  4. Work with the City of Houston and community organizations to reduce the highway width and improve the amenities provided along the northern segments of the project to mirror the investment going downtown.

Air Alliance Houston and other groups are urging TxDOT to take these findings and community feedback seriously. “We have expressed to TxDOT and local elected officials serious reservations about the air quality, flooding, and other impacts of this megaproject,” said Michael Skelly, leader of the grassroots organization Make I-45 Better Coalition. “This is the biggest infrastructure project Houston will see in the next 20 years. We are counting on local elected officials to weigh in forcefully with TxDOT to make sure this project works properly for our city.”

To read the full report, please click here.

Please see here for a summary of the key findings and recommendations. 

For more information, please contact Riikka Pohjankoski, Communications Manager, Air Alliance Houston, at [email protected] | 713.528.3779


About Air Alliance Houston

Air Alliance Houston (AAH) is the leading air quality non-profit organization for the Houston region. AAH believes that everyone has a right to breathe clean air and where you live, work, learn, and play should not determine your health. Through applied research, education, and advocacy, AAH works to deliver clean air for a healthier future in Houston.

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