HOUSTON – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is engaged in ongoing discrimination against Black and Brown populations that will be most adversely affected by the proposed highway expansion in North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) according to an administrative complaint filed today with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The complaint was filed by Air Alliance Houston, LINK Houston, Stop TxDOT I-45, Texas Housers, and Texas Appleseed.
The complaint outlines a historic and continuing pattern of destroying the health, safety, homes, and businesses of Black and Brown populations in Houston by building and expanding highways through their generational neighborhoods that constitutes discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI bars agencies who receive federal funds from using them to discriminate.
This additional complaint is necessary because TxDOT has continued to discriminate on the basis of race, color, and national origin — even after FHWA initiated a Title VI investigation — and has retaliated against persons and groups for filing previous civil rights complaints by threatening to remove funding from the Houston-Galveston region altogether if the agency is not allowed to construct its preferred version of the NHHIP.
“TxDOT has known for more than a decade that this project would severely and disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic-Latinx communities,” said Madison Sloan, Director of Disaster Recovery and Fair Housing at Texas Appleseed, “yet it has deliberately continued to approve this discriminatory project over and over. Now TxDOT is threatening to reallocate billions of dollars because local communities dared to push back.”
The Impact on Affected Communities of Color
TxDOT’s planned expansion will demolish thousands of homes and businesses, and displace thousands of families. “It’s racially unjust,” said Susan Graham, co-founder of Stop TxDOT I-45. “Families have worked for generations to own their homes, and TxDOT is just going to strip away the wealth they worked so hard for. You can’t find affordable housing in Houston as it is. Where are people going to go?”
“The health impact of increased traffic air pollution will last for generations,” Harrison Humphreys, Transportation Program Manager with Air Alliance Houston, said. “Children are particularly vulnerable to negative health effects like asthma, and the expansion of I-45 will increase the number of cars on the road while moving the highway closer to schools and day care centers. In addition to deeply affecting the lived environment of adjacent communities, TxDOT’s designs are antithetical to the City’s and the country’s climate change mitigation goals.”
Lack of investment has already left communities of color without resources like standard drainage infrastructure, access to fresh food, and economic development, and burdened with hazardous environmental uses that affect the health of families who live there. “TxDOT’s past decisions are a major driver of this segregation and inequality,” said David Wheaton of Texas Housers. “It is illegal for TxDOT to perpetuate segregation and increase these harms.”
A National Problem
The complaint comes at a time of focused national dialogue on the racist history of highway building and its negative impact on the health, safety, and ability to build wealth of Black and Brown families — and on how increasing highway capacity contributes to climate change and negative health outcomes across the country. “What happens in Houston could be a model for the country,” said Ines Sigel, Interim Director of LINK Houston. “Enforcing the civil rights of the most affected people can move us towards an equitable transportation system that improves mobility, health, and the environment for everyone.”
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