If you’ve been a resident of the Houston area for a while, you’re likely aware that the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) has been in the pipeline for roughly 10 years now. A major part of the project is the I 45 north freeway expansion that involves re-routing and widening the highway to improve the flow of traffic through Downtown Houston.
The project proposes the re-routing of I-45 to make it parallel to highway 59 on the east side and I-10 on the north side of Downtown. It also adds four managed express lanes on I-45 extending from Downtown to Beltway 8 North.
The project has raised concerns among Houston residents, top of which is the right-of-way along its path that would lead to the displacement of well over 1,000 homes, businesses, and community centers. This article explores everything you need to know about the I 45 expansion Houston, as well as the current status of the project.
Interstate 45 Construction Timeline
Given the magnitude of the Houston road construction project, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has broken it up into three main segments, all of which are projected to take well over 10 years to complete at the cost of at least $7 billion. Construction is slated to begin in late 2022, depending on public feedback and an environmental impact study outcome.
Although it is still in the design phase, TxDOT is focused on maximizing the intended benefits and minimizing any potential negative impacts the completed freeway may have on the community. Once the final environmental impact study gets thumbs-up, and the federal government gives the green light on the corresponding design, the freeway expansion and reconstruction can commence.
Here’s an overview of the three major segments of the project.
The first segment of the I 45 expansion Houston consists of the stretch of highway between the North Sam Houston Tollway and the IH-610 North Loop. The construction work in this stretch will revolve around adding lanes and expanding the freeway to make it wider. According to TxDOT, this phase of the project will likely commence sometime in the next 5-10 years and will be among the last segments to be completed.
The second segment includes the North Freeway portion between IH-610 and Downtown. The construction work in this stretch will involve adding lanes and widening the freeway along the length of this stretch, as well as reconstructing the interchange between the IH-610 North Loop and IH-45. TxDOT indicates that the construction of this segment is slated to begin sometime within the next 5-10 years as well.
The construction of the third segment will be the first to commence. It consists of the portion of the freeway surrounding the immediate Downtown area. According to TxDOT, it is the most expensive stretch of the entire project and will incorporate some of the most drastic changes to the highway’s existing configuration.
These modifications will affect the stretch of freeway between the I-45/I-10 interchange on the north side and the Spur 527 on the south side. It will also affect the four major interchanges around the core of the city and the freeway extending 12 miles.
The proposed redesign of this portion eliminates the Pierce Elevated Freeway. This is the stretch of highway that runs parallel to Pierce Street on Downtown Houston’s southwest side, between Midtown and Downtown. The new route will take I-45 around Downtown eastside, making it parallel to the I-69 and the Eastex Freeway.
This new layout is supposed to:
- Achieve a reduction of up to 50 percent in the existing delays currently experienced on the stretch
- Improve visibility around curves
- Increase the free-flow speed of vehicles traversing the highway to a limit of 55 mph up from the current 35
- Reduce crashes by more than 50 percent
- Reduce the rate of weaving through traffic while driving on the freeway
In line with the city’s bike plan, this third segment also includes expanding bike and pedestrian facilities along the freeway. TxDOT indicates that construction could commence in 2022, although it may be earlier if it receives all the necessary approvals.
Stop TxDOT I45
In March 2021, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) instructed TxDOT to halt construction on the I-45 expansion project, citing civil rights concerns. The news came the same day that Harris County issued a statement indicating that it had launched a lawsuit against TxDOT over the highway improvement project. In its suit, the county is asking the courts to put the construction plans on hold until a “more thorough” environmental review is conducted.
The FHWA issued this directive in response to the public feedback it had received on the state project. Houston residents through Texas Housers, Air Alliance Houston, and US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee had raised concerns over environmental justice issues and violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Given that the FHWA is the federal agency responsible for investigating such civil rights complaints, the directive to halt the project is meant to give it time to review the concerns raised by state citizens.
The i45 expansion in Houston has received widespread opposition from residents, citing concerns over air and noise pollution, as well as the imposed right-of-way that could see the forced relocation of more than 1,000 homes and businesses along the project’s pathway.
The Way Forward
At the time of this publication, the NHHIP has been put on hold until the FHWA can evaluate whether the concerns raised by Houstonians violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to the Act, no US citizen – regardless of their nationality, color, or race – shall be excluded from participating in, benefiting from, or be subjected to discrimination in any project receiving federal financial aid.
Opponents of the proposed expansion want TxDOT to go back to the drawing board and come up with a version of the project that would minimize right-of-way, therefore reducing the negative impact it would have on city residents, businesses, and community centers situated along the project’s corridor. Several of these include key organizations that cater exclusively to racial minority and/or low-income populations.
For now, the jury is out on whether or not the project will continue as it is.
In the meantime, check out our blog to find out why Texas Interstate 45 has been labeled the most dangerous road in America.