"We need to stop the expansion of 45!"
'45? You mean Trump? I agree, he's expansive enough as it is."
Even for bulldozer-happy Houston, this is pretty lowdown, in everything but the price.
This morning at the Buffalo Bayou Partnership near UH Downtown, Air Alliance Houston's executive director Bakeyah Nelson conducted an information exchange at the monthly Breakfast with Bakeyah (typically held on the last Thursday of the month). Wonks from various advocacy groups and some wonky individuals gathered to learn what they could and share what they knew. And I had a minor revelation that policy advocacy truly feeds my soul and is something I should do for a living if possible—but that's for another time and post.
Consider the Impact, Delay the Vote
Aside from spilling the dirty details of NHHIP, Nelson's main ask was that people who have the time should show up at tomorrow morning's meeting of the Houston-Galveston Area Council's Transportation Policy Council. H-GAC's TPC consists of representatives from Houston City government, Harris County, Galveston County, and METRO. Air Alliance's position is that the TPC should delay voting on the Texas Department of Transportation's proposal to spend the first $100 million dollars on the segment of I-45 between the North Loop and I-10.
AAH and related groups are unlikely to convince H-GAC and TxDOT that the project is wasteful and unnecessary and should be scrapped immediately. Delaying the vote, however would give H-GAC's decision-makers time to consider the project's impact on thousands of lives, buildings, homes, and jobs. Zoom in on the photo above to see the main points.
The TPC convenes for a public hearing at 9:30 am, Friday 26 July, in the meeting room at 3555 Timmons Lane, 77027.
The most dramatic impact that Nelson illustrated in her presentation is the case of where I-45 would be rerouted to join I-69 east of Downtown. The current spaghetti bowl of the I-10/I-69 interchange would become even more pastarific, with ramps looming directly above the northwest corner of Bruce Elementary School on Jensen Drive. It's bad enough that the current noise and exhaust from those freeways would move even closer to the school, but add years of ambient construction dust and you've got yourself a major juvenile health hazard.
Right nearby, the Houston Housing Authority's Clayton Homes project would be at least partially destroyed, along with Kelly Village on the other side of I-10. These two properties were developed a few years on either side of World War Two, and modernized just over a decade ago. A few hundred private homes located near the various freeways would also be plowed under.
Destroying entire neighborhoods to make freeways is old news. But for those who thought that America was done with such barbaric construction practices—well, apparently it's still going on.
So Much Bureaucracy, So Much Wrong
Beyond the direct impact on those living, working, and going to school nearby, this expansion is just horrible policy on multiple levels. Here are just a few:
- For starters, it uses outdated 100-year flood plain data.
- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced last year that any regional transportation plan should focus less on individual automobiles, more on multi-modal approaches. This plan, budgeted at about $7 billion and at least six years, is all about cars & trucks. Those billions spent would rob the region of improved public transit and streets that are safe for all road-users.
- NHHIP would also render Turner's Complete Communities Initiative more difficult to implement in the Near Northside, which abuts I-45 North.
- As Dexter Handy of the Citizens Transportation Coalition informed us, Turner has been an enthusiastic booster of the project, even saying so directly to a gathering of business interests all lined up to redevelop the I-45 corridor once the poor folks are booted out.
- As the Katy Freeway (I-10 West) expansion demonstrates, these projects relieve congestion for a short time, maybe a few years, before all the new lanes are filled with even more vehicles. See this post from 2010 at Houston Tomorrow's website.
You know how politicians, especially once they're elected, promise they'll be a (mayor/governor/legislator) for the whole (city/state/district), not just a few? Turner is practicing a variation on that, wherein he formulates programs to help one constituency while saying yes to other programs that help another constituency while directly counteracting the other helpful programs.
So I Can Show Ya How Yer Money's Spent
Anyway, another big point that Nelson and other attendees got across effectively is that there are multiple agencies, with well-defined jurisdictions, in charge of setting and implementing transportation policies, determining budgets, and other important tasks. Keeping up with who does what, and informing voters to whom they can complain, is a full-time job.
These various agencies also play by the rules that their mandates dictate, such as the percentages of annual budgets (or individual project budgets) can be spent on what: e.g., TxDOT cannot spend more than 1% of its operating funds on anything to do with public transit. TxDOT's mission is state highways. So the wonk community can't just go to H-GAC and say, "We need TxDOT to reroute those dollars into X or Y." It doesn't work that way.
Lots of folks who read that last paragraph will reply, "Duh!" But just because they know these facts doesn't mean that everybody does, including relatively woke folks like me.
The more this relatively woke blogger considers the plan, the more dastardly it seems. Will showing up to testify before the TPC be enough to thwart it? Will activists have to follow the example of Extinction Rebellion and Super-Glue themselves in the way of the project?
I'm a big-picture person, looking instinctively for intersections between communities that can come together and advocate a future that isn't focused on massive profits at the expense of the human and natural environments. From my big-picture view, this isn't just about transportation, or environment, or social justice: It's about all of those and more. So it was good to see dozens of Greater Houstonians, from diverse backgrounds and with diverse interests, intersecting over breakfast tacos and coffee.