Adding lanes for “traffic relief” remains politically popular, even though we see time and time again that it doesn’t work. In Texas, they’re making “road improvements” by adding lanes and widening highways. And, like so many gigantic urban highway projects of the past, I-45’s widening will also exact a toll.
The construction will take out thousands of residential and commercial structures, thicken air pollution in an already smog-choked corridor, and tear up historic African-American communities. The estimated cost: $7 billion.
But in Houston, voices critical of the I-45 project have been growing louder in recent months. A union of neighborhood advocates, policy shops, and environmental justice groups, Make I-45 Better advocates for tweaking the highway rebuild, with changes to ramp alignment, dedicated trails for walking and biking, and broader flood mitigation. It also calls for more mass transit options across the Houston area.
The fact that Amazon didn’t consider Houston as a location for its second headquarters in its 2018 campaign was widely seen as a wake-up call to city leaders. To attract younger generations to Houston, the city must transform itself into a place that’s friendlier to people who walk, bike and take transit, says Houston council member Letitia Plummer.
And although it’s pretty hard to tell Texans to get out of their cars and adopt a more pedestrian lifestyle, the grassroots opposition to the I-45 rebuild is gaining steam. In fact, in response to the rising cacophony of dissenters, the mayor’s office will submit an alternative design of the freeway rebuild—one that’s expected to propose several transit-friendly changes and influenced by citizen responses that were made during consultation sessions.
Even if the original I-45 rebuild goes through, it’s promising that people are becoming aware of consequences of freeway expansions and are showing a sense of urgency for alternatives—but let’s just hope it doesn’t go through, shall we?