The I-45 Project – Planning Stage is coming to an end! by Michael Graves

From the Editor - WH neighbor Jim West has made a huge effort to stay abreast of TxDOTs plans for I-45 expansion. What follows is derived from his most recent update posted to NextDoor, reproduced here with permission.

The I-45 Project – Planning Stage is coming to an end! This next meeting is a HEARING - much different from the public meetings that TxDOT has been holding. 

This HEARING is the last meeting where the public will be heard! After a short comment period following the hearing, nothing else will go on record about the project. 

After the Hearing, the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) will be completed – estimated to be complete next year – in 2018. Then a R.O.D. (Record of Decision) – also in 2018. And TxDOT will immediately start acquiring Right-of-way where needed and finish designs. 1st phase of construction will begin on Segment 3 (downtown) – estimated to start in 2020. 

There are only 2 HEARINGS scheduled at this time. You may remember that normally there were 3 meetings including one held at Jeff Davis High School (now Northside High School). Northside is currently being renovated so no meeting can be held there. We are asking TxDOT for a meeting that is convenient to Segment 2… but so far, no luck. 

As a quick summary, there are 3 Segments involved in the project:

  • Segment 1 (610 to Beltway 8) 
  • Segment 2 (610 to I-10)
  • Segment 3 (the Downtown Loop) 

We are currently in the final year of an approximately 12-year planning phase. TxDOT has held 4 public meetings – in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Part of this project, is the re-routing of I-45 at Pierce Elevated and moving it to be coincident with I-10 on the north side of downtown and coincident with US-59 on the east side of Downtown. Directly east of George Brown Convention both US-59 and I-45 will be below-grade.

This is a major project that is estimated to cost between $6 Billion and $7 Billion, WITHOUT right-of-way costs included. 

I am part of the I-45 Coalition, which is an all-volunteer group that was formed to address issues related to the planned construction of I-45 and to work with TxDOT to ensure that the pending construction comply with these 3 tenets:

  1. No expansion beyond the existing right-of-way
  2. Alternative means of transportation must be explored
  3. No negative impact on the neighborhoods quality of life.

We have not been very successful in these 3 tenets...but we have helped improve the project. 

Regarding ROW in Segment 1 – 212 acres of land will be taken; Segment 2 – 19 acres of land and in Segment 3 – 79 acres of land. 

In Segment 2 – the North St. Bridge will be removed. The main roadway of I-45 will be raised to almost grade level at North St. so it is impossible with the current engineering to have any bridge there. 

If you have commented or attended any of the prior meetings before, you should have received, or will soon receive notification via USPS of the 2 meetings locations from TxDOT. 

Hearings: Locations & Dates

Tuesday, May 9th
St. Pius X High School
811 W. Donovan Street
Houston, TX 77091

Thursday, May 11th
Houston Community College – Central Campus
1300 Holman Street - San Jacinto Building
Houston, TX 77004 

Displays will be available for viewing at 5:30 pm, formal hearing starts at 6:30 pm. 

Please review TxDOT’s plan, maps & designs on their website, www.ih45northandmore.com. As of today, the documents that will be shown at the hearing are NOT on the website…but they should be there soon. 

One major concern I have was in the announcement of the public hearing that was on the web-site. It states…”Some of the design changes are not included in the current evaluation of alternatives …. but will be presented at the Public Hearing and included and evaluated in the Final Environmental Impact Statement”. This means that TxDOT could present changes at the Public Hearing that folks will see for the very 1st time. Then we must evaluate all consequences of the change(s) and speak up at the very same meeting…which is the final meeting on the project! 

This seems to be exactly opposite method of trying to build consensus with the taxpayers and stakeholders. There will be a comment period to June 3rd or later (I haven’t seen the official deadline) … but the whole purpose of having meetings for more than 10 years with the community is to develop a project that the public agrees with and supports … last minute changes do not support that concept. 

It seems that now that we are down to the final meeting/HEARING – it is simple wrong to propose design changes that NO ONE HAS SEEN. Hopefully, any changes that TxDOT presents are ones that the community have requested…but it seems like proposed design changes should at least be on the TxDOT web site months before the HEARING! ...not the day of the HEARING! 

It is critical that you attend either Hearing (or both!) This truly is the last opportunity to have your voice heard! Please stay involved or get involved!