The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP), or I-45 expansion.
This is an important document with potentially profound impacts on the final form the project will take.
Below, we outline what the FEIS is about, what it means for the project moving forward, as well as how we can together continue to advocate for changes to the project.
What is the FEIS and what does its release signify?
The newly released FEIS, required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), describes the expected environmental impacts of TxDOT’s recommended design for the I-45 expansion project. The document reflects some minor changes proposed to the project as a result of the public input received on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), released in 2017. Among these changes, some small considerations have been given to anticipated air quality impacts.
The publication of the FEIS in the Federal Registry starts a 30-day comment period before TxDOT issues a Record of Decision (ROD), which gives the project environmental clearance to continue.
While the FEIS does not equal final design, the document has major implications on the overall direction of the project, including the right-of-way impacts.
While the schematic presented in the FEIS includes a number of smaller changes as requested by the public, it seems to be far from Mayor Turner’s community-informed vision presented to TxDOT, which called for a drastic re-imagining of the project. The Mayor’s vision, based on a year-long public engagement process by the City, proposed an alternative that would reduce the project’s current footprint while improving safety and increasing the capacity to move people.
The project as now designed would continue to perpetuate systemic racism by displacing 160 houses, 433 multi-family residential units, 486 public housing units, 344 businesses, five churches, and two schools in low-income communities of color. Those living along the corridor but not directly impacted would be brought closer to air and noise pollution of the highway.
Regarding air quality impacts, TxDOT refuses to acknowledge that putting more cars on the road negatively impacts our air. The agency continues to double down on the contentious argument that expanding the freeway will improve congestion and therefore improve air quality regionally.
TxDOT maintains that “future changes and refinements to the project can still occur” during the “detailed design” phase that follows the ROD, however, it is deeply concerning and unclear what kinds of changes can still be made at that point.
Our next steps:
We at Air Alliance Houston will formally request a 120-day extension on the comment period for the FEIS, as 30 days is not enough time to carefully review and provide feedback on the entirety of this important document. We will also be contacting our local decision-makers to ask them to join us in requesting TxDOT to grant an extension.
In the coming days, we will be reviewing and analyzing the FEIS in detail. We will pay particular attention to ensuring that the project’s potential adverse health impacts and adequate mitigations as outlined in our Health Impact Assessment have been considered.
What you can do:
- Request an extension to the 30-day comment period by sending an email to TxDOT. Comments should be sent to the Texas Department of Transportation, Attention: Director of Project Development, P.O. Box 1386, Houston, Texas 77251, or by email to: [email protected].
Click here to send an email to TxDOT with an automated message or draft one in your own words.
- Communicate via email or social media to the Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan, Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo that you still care about this project and that it is crucial that community concerns are not disregarded.
- Stay tuned as we’ll keep you informed about our findings, action steps that we can take together to continue holding TxDOT accountable, and potential upcoming public meetings on the FEIS by Harris County and Huitt-Zollars.