This is a sequel to yesterday's post about the North Houston Highway Improvement Project. The first expenditures on Segment 2 of the project got the go-ahead today, despite strong opposition from advocacy groups and Near Northside residents whose neighborhoods will be affected.
Only a few people spoke in favor of the NHHIP; dozens including Gallery Furniture entrepreneur "Mattress Mack" McIngvale, spoke against it. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston City Councilmember Dwight Boykins offered motions to delay the vote, which was all the crowd was requesting. But a majority of the Transportation Policy Council had already made up its collective mind to spend the first $100 million dollars toward what McIngvale called "the $7 Billion Boondoggle."
Hidalgo cast the only Yes vote on her motion to delay. The rest of the TPC is ready to let the bulldozers roll.
Here are a few links to reports in local media sources:
“This plan is not a good plan for the city of Houston and represents the past and not the future of transportation in the City of Houston,” former district judge and Metropolitan Transit Authority board member Dwight Jefferson said, noting how prior freeway projects—including I-45—cut large gashes in black and Latino communities.
“The time has come to say no more,” Jefferson said in a fiery speech that drew loud applause. “No more communities dissected, no more families displaced, no more businesses sacrificed.”
KHOU's Jason Miles reported live from a big patch of grass adjacent to Jensen Drive, right near Bruce Elementary and the Clayton Homes housing project. If NHHIP proceeds as designed, as we mentioned here yesterday, Clayton Homes and Kelly Village will both be eradicated, and a portion of the school will be literally directly under a piece of freeway.
The Place to Be Today for Community Activists
Some of the folks at yesterday's breakfast meeting showed up to speak, as well as some friends and acquaintances who did themselves proud. Apart from Mattress Mack, we heard from these and about 40 others:
- Dr. Bakeyah Nelson of Air Alliance Houston, along with AAH Board President Jonathan Ross
- Dr. Stefanie Thomas of Public Citizen
- Dr. Inge Ford and Jessica Wiggins of BikeHouston
- Dexter Handy of the Citizens Transportation Coalition
- Oni Blair of Link Houston (she speaks a few lines in the KHOU report)
- Jay Blazek Crossley of Farm & City, among other groups
I don't remember which speaker pointed out the dreadfully dark irony of this measure passing on the day after the City of Houston unveiled its draft climate plan, on which the Mayor's Sustainability Office has been working for two years.
Jessica Wiggins got the heartiest laughter of the morning (at least while I was still there) as she closed her three-minute address. She described NHHIP as something like "...seeing a commercial on TV for a medicine that cures headaches, and then you find out that the side-effects include worse headaches and death."
Even if their efforts did not add up to victory, it was thrilling to see real democracy in action. This will not be the last time all these groups will come together to oppose a Texas-size boondoggle, and there will be victories down the line as they learn from setbacks like this one.
The Other Side
I will admit to feeling a soupçon of sympathy for the TxDOT engineers who have been working on this proposal for several years. Would I want to see all their work go for naught? No. But can I support any plan like this that TxDOT admits will displace entire communities? Hell No.
Those who spoke in favor of the proposal pointed out the usual and obvious advantages to expanding the freeway. It's very true that the North Freeway between Greenspoint and Downtown has seen little substantial improvement since 1962—unlike the I-45 South Gulf Freeway, which has been under nearly continuous reconstruction since the 1950s.
It's also very true that, even with the highly touted managed lanes, this will not decrease congestion on daily commutes.
It's very false that, as one speaker stated, adding a few more lanes will make evacuation from Houston any easier in the event of a hurricane. This advantage is especially false as the population density inside the 610 Loop increases (with all the new luxury lofts and high-rises beckoning affluent folks into Inner Loop neighborhoods that could still be called "marginal"). Additionally, most of the lessons learned from Hurricane Rita and the disastrous evacuation of 2005 have already been applied, and the Rita nightmare did not recur with Harvey in 2017.
As if I didn't feel sick enough that the TPC members are perfectly fine with this project and its impacts, I actually did scroll down into the comment section on KPRC's story, where several commenters seem giddy at the prospect of bulldozing these people out of the way. I should never be surprised at people's sheer lack of empathy for people they don't know, or their lack of understanding that such displacement adds to the crime rate, increases their tax bills, and will kill people. Will these commenters take displaced families into their homes when there is little or no affordable housing available for them?