HOUSTON – After years of negotiations, the Federal Highway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation signed a voluntary resolution agreement to resolve the FHWA Title VI investigation of the I-45 North Houston Highway Improvement Project and lift the FHWA’s pause on the project, according to a release.
The agreement will take significant steps to address the project’s impact on the community and provide clear timelines that will be monitored by the FHWA, including detailed design, stakeholder engagement, affordable housing initiatives, right-of-way acquisition, flood mitigation and construction activities, the release stated.
The FHWA concluded its review of TxDOT’s responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act with no findings.
The actions in the Voluntary Resolution Agreement will be carried out in accordance with the mitigation measures already committed to by TxDOT, as stated in the Record of Decision, including:
Twice-yearly public meetings through design and construction;
Reduce displacements, relocations, housing and other community impacts;
Drainage improvements to reduce flooding;
Parks, open space, trails, pedestrian and bicycle facilities;
Common access under construction;
Freeway “Footprint” Reduction;
structural highway caps;
Air quality reduction; and
Meaningful access for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).
“This agreement moves an important project forward, responds to community concerns, and improves the North Houston Highway Improvement Project in ways that will make a real difference in people’s lives. Through this agreement, the community will have a greater voice in its design and throughout the project’s lifecycle,” said Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt. “We have lifted the pause and with FHWA oversight, TXDOT can proceed with design and construction.”
The $9 billion North Houston Highway Improvement Project is designed from the IH 45 North Corridor from Beltway 8 North to and around downtown Houston. It will provide connectivity for residents and businesses in and outside the state of Texas.
“This section of I-45 was built in stages in the 1950s and 1960s, and the design has remained essentially the same while the area’s population has doubled,” said Marc Williams, executive director of TxDOT. “The reconstruction of I-45 will meet mobility needs for people and freight while improving safety and a number of environmental mitigations that include critical measures to improve stormwater drainage. Considering the recently executed agreements with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County , and now the FHWA, we are excited to get this critical infrastructure project underway with our partners.
In December, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that the City of Houston and the Texas Department of Transportation reached a common ground after two years of discussions.
As part of the agreement, Turner signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TxDOT, which will help advance the I-45 North Houston Highway Improvement Project.
READ: City, county officials reach agreement with TxDOT on I-45 widening project. Here’s what you need to know
“After years of negotiations, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project can now become the project Houston deserves to be,” Turner said. “A project that addresses I-45’s recurring flooding while maximizing opportunities for people to stay in their homes and neighborhoods. It’s a project that helps people and goods travel through the region while encouraging people to travel between our neighborhoods without impacting them. A project that can help knit downtown together and improve the air we all breathe. I thank the many project partners and stakeholders who have brought us to this point, including FHWA, TxDOT, Harris County, METRO, and especially our citizens.”
LINK Houston released the following statement:
“We expected the federal government to maximize its leverage over TxDOT to push for a fairer and more equitable North Houston Highway Improvement Project, but we are encouraged to see that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will hold TxDOT accountable in ways that The City of Houston and Harris County memorandums of understanding cannot.
The Voluntary Resolution Agreement’s (VRA) compliance provisions appear much more robust, with fixed deadlines and expectations, and are enforceable as the federal government has authority over TxDOT. LINK Houston will fully review the VRA over the next few days and will continue to act as a watchdog over this process in the months and years ahead.
The FHWA’s release of the VRA concludes the Title VI Civil Rights complaint regarding the proposed I-45 widening filed by LINK Houston, Air Alliance Houston, Texas Appleseed and Texas Housers in December 2021. Our civil rights complaint outlined TxDOT’s historical and continuing pattern of destroying the health, the safety, homes, and businesses of black and brown populations in Houston by building and expanding freeways through their generational neighborhoods.
To truly reconnect communities and build a more sustainable and just nation, the Biden administration must ensure that transportation policies and projects promote accessibility as well as racial and environmental justice. The federal government must hold TxDOT accountable to that standard. Without accountability and active oversight, TxDOT will continue to cause maximum damage to communities already exploited by previous freeway expansions.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee released the following statement:
“First, I want to thank the county judge, mayor and council members, commissioners and county attorney for their hard work. The US Department of Transportation has now terminated its agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) on the communities’ Title VI complaints regarding the fairness and equity of the I-45 project.
“In the review provided to me by the US Federal Highway Administrator, it is clear that the detailed work and efforts made by the US Department of Transportation to ensure the enforcement of provisions will provide a better quality of life, a better project and a better response to the needs of our communities on the road to I-45 County Attorney for their hard work in responding to community concerns the expressway project was carefully executed to respond to a number of pressing concerns, including air quality, housing loss, impact on parks and historic trails and signs, access under construction and response to ongoing community issues in the I-45 transportation project.
“I have worked on this issue from the beginning when I tried to represent the voters’ view that there has to be a better way, a smaller footprint, a better design and an elimination of the massive destruction of homes. I approached the US Department of Transportation when TxDOT began trying to explain the project. I am grateful for the attention that the US Department of Transportation provided, and I am grateful to the community members and organizations that filed a Title VI complaint. Following the submission of these complaints, the Federal Highway Administration followed best practices in responding to the concerns. However, we all remain cautious and diligent in determining TxDOT’s compliance.
“So I was particularly pleased that the Federal Highway Administration listened and put in very strong enforcement elements between the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice. The agreement includes mandatory public meetings every year. It requires the creation of an ombudsman so that all aspects of the agreement are noticed and remembered, and that TxDOT must comply based on the enforcement mechanism. Additionally, we welcome any necessary public meetings. Our work is not done. I will remain available to my constituents.”
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