Time is running out for Houston-Harris County, TxDOT and federal transportation officials to revive the $9 billion I-45 expansion project.
After 15 years of planning, Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court -- with help from the Biden administration -- have stopped the project in its tracks.
"We have until December 1 to figure it out, and that's everybody. Whether it's Houston, Harris County, we have to figure it out or TxDOT may pull that money and send it to Dallas or Austin," says Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, a Republican.
Ramsey says this is bigger than bike paths, light rail or civil rights complaints.
"Millions of people will not be able to evacuate the next time we have a hurricane because Harris County is suing TxDOT. That is the definition of irresponsible."
For its part, TXDOT says it remains committed to resolving all concerns.
"TxDOT has stopped purchasing right-of-way. TxDOT has stopped with their design," says Ramsey. "I understand TxDOT because I've worked with them for 45 years. That is clear signals that if we can't figure it out we're pulling the money."
TxDOT's Danny Perez issued the following statement:
The NHHIP is more than a decade in the making with extensive local input and regional support. It will bring much-needed and significant improvements to I-45 to enhance safety and mobility as our state continues to see robust population growth and freight traffic. The project will also replace aging infrastructure and help with flooding issues along the corridor while improving routes that could be used during an evacuation.
Currently, TxDOT has suspended work on the project in response to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requesting a 'pause' in project activities as it investigates Title VI complaints related to the development of the project. While TxDOT is confident in our due diligence and compliance with federal standards and regulations in the development of the NHHIP, we are committed to working with FHWA as it conducts its investigation.
At its August 2021 meeting, the Texas Transportation Commission approved keeping this project in TxDOT's 10-year plan, the Unified Transportation Program. At that time, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman J. Bruce Bugg, Jr. said that “until FHWA releases its halt to proceeding with the project and TxDOT has clarity on the project’s path forward, the Commission cannot leave billions of dollars allocated to a project that is prevented from advancing." He further noted that if there is not a "viable path forward" within the current record of decision by November 30, that he would place the project on the agenda for the Commission’s December meeting, which would be the first step in moving forward and taking any necessary steps to potentially remove planned funding from the project.
As stated previously, TxDOT continues to work with FHWA and local stakeholders to address and resolve areas of concern.