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HGAC makes its pledge to TxDOT for I-45

Lots of pushback, but not enough to change the outcome.

Local transportation officials now have skin in the game when it comes to widening Interstate 45 north of downtown Houston, approving on Friday a $100 million commitment for the project that has drawn increasing scrutiny and criticism from affected communities.

After five hours and nearly 60 residents — as well as Harris County officials — urging delay of the approval until the Texas Department of Transportation answered lingering questions, however, the go-ahead from the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council fell well short of full-throated support.

“It is one thing to listen, but it is very important we are responsive,” Houston at-large Councilman and transportation council Vice Chairman David Robinson said, telling TxDOT the city’s support comes with the expectation the concerns will be addressed.

“We will not support a project that is not in the interest of our citizens,” Robinson said.

[…]

Though the decision affects only the center segment, criticism is growing along the entire $7-billion-plus, 25-mile project from downtown Houston north to Beltway 8. TxDOT proposes adding two managed lanes in each direction the length of the rebuild, which will require the acquisition of 319 residences and 264 businesses north of Interstate 10; another 916 residences and 68 businesses would be affected by the construction around the central business district, where the project would lead to a near-total redesign of the freeway system from Interstate 69 and Spur 527 to I-10 and I-45.

A major part of the proposed project would remove the elevated section of I-45 along Pierce Street and shift the freeway to flow along I-69 on the east end of the central business district and then follow I-10 along Buffalo Bayou back to where I-45 heads north of downtown.

Construction of downtown segments could start as early as 2021, while the center segment work is not expected to start until late 2023 or early 2024.

The sheer enormity of the project has led to widespread air quality concerns and neighborhood-specific fears along the 25-mile route. That has led some to encourage slow-going before local officials commit their money.

“If it feels wrong and feels rushed, it is because it is wrong and is rushed,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo told colleagues on the transportation council Friday. “It is only responsible to wait.”

Hidalgo was the sole no vote against the $100 million, after her proposal to delay the commitment to January 2020 was denied. Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia abstained on the vote to commit the money.

They were hardly the only people in the H-GAC conference room opposed to moving forward, which grew so crowded an overflow room was opened. Sixty-five people spoke during public comment, 59 of whom urged officials to delay committing the money or reject the widening plan outright.

See here and here for the background. Allyn West live-tweeted the meeting – see here and here for his tweets, which for some reason I can’t quite seem to fully capture in one thread. If you want to know who spoke and what they said, that’s where to look. LINK Houston also tweeted from the meeting, but not in a threaded fashion, so you need to look at their timeline. They do have pictures, so there’s that. As the story notes, the purpose of this vote was to get the I-45 project on the state’s Unified Transportation Program, basically a ten-year plan for major transportation projects. Someone far geekier than I will have to explain how the timing of that works. In any event, this is not the last time HGAC will vote on this item. HGAC still has to approve adding that $100 million to its own plans, so there will be another vote or two on this in 2020 and 2021, depending on when construction is scheduled to start. TxDOT is still getting public feedback, and I suppose there’s still room for the project to be changed, up till the point where something is well and truly finalized. If you want to get involved in trying to affect, alter, or arrest the development of the I-45 expansion, I suggest you read through Allyn West’s tweets, find the organizations that spoke out and best represent your viewpoint, and contact them to see how you can help. There’s still time, until there isn’t. Don’t wait too long.

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5 Comments

  1. David Fagan says:

    $100,000,000 for this, $100,000,000 for a landbridge in Memorial park (why?), but for fighters are going to send this city into a downward spiral, lowered credit ratings, comparisons to Detroit, layoffs, bankruptcy, the end of Houston and the wrong of All commerce, (what else can we blame on fire fighters when equitable compensation is an issue?) I think the fear is fanned, but the city’s actions speak louder. When special revenue funds exceed the general fund, who owns Houston?

  2. Ross says:

    The $100 million for 45 and the $100 million for the Park, don’t come out of the City of Houston general fund, so don’t have the impact of the HFD raises. You might want to consider a class in budgeting, and a perusal of the financials for the various entities.

  3. David Fagan says:

    Thank you very much Ross! I didn’t realize the general fund is the only section of the budget affected by the revenue cap and that the area of special revenue funds, that must include our influence the other projects, are growing considerably. So, as a question of budget, when the FF’ s are blamed for the bankruptcy of the entire city, that statement must not be true? Also, when the statement is made that people would rather spend money on pet projects, rather than listen to FF’ s, well, that statement must find true also. One more budgetary question would be, if the only way for anything to get funding in the city is to propose a new special revenue fund, is the way the FF’ s are funded out of date and needs to be bought into the special revenue fund side of budgeting, seeing how that’s the way things work. I’ve heard so much about this ‘funding source’, I think a special revenue fund for the fire department would bring them up to date in funding practices if the 2020’s.

    If course, someone is going to say “oh no, you can’t do that”, but mixed partnerships are valued in this city, and these partnerships make themselves look like such a wonderful example, maybe it’s time to apply their budgeting strategies.

    I think you’re right, Ross, a class on effective budgeting and how it affects the FF’ s is exactly what’s called for, but will people support the same streams of finance they support for GHP, or Houston First, or the pattern of drawing out TIRZ?

    When special revenue funds revenue exceeds the general fund revenue, who is going to own this city?

  4. Adoile Turner III says:

    This project is conceptually a good idea with lots of thought however the exponential damage it will do to several communities along the route should have not gone ignored. We should stop financing sprawl. aren’t people tired of 30+ minute commutes twice every day

  5. Ross says:

    @Adoile, where do you suggest all of the new residents live, if not in the sprawl? Keep in mind that many of them move here because they can buy a house with a yard and a garage at a reasonable price, which they consider far better than living in an apartment or townhouse.