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I-45 Project Can Resume After Agreement Struck With Federal Highway Administration

An agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation lifted the Federal Highway Administration’s pause on the Interstate 45 North Houston Highway Improvement Project, meaning work can resume after a nearly two-year shutdown.


The agreement takes “significant steps” to address project impacts to the community, according to TxDOT’s announcement Tuesday.

The $9.7B project has been criticized for years over civil rights and environmental justice concerns, including the displacement of hundreds of households and thousands of businesses, primarily in low-income and minority communities. FHWA officials asked TxDOT to suspend work on the project in March 2021 to investigate civil rights and environmental concerns.

The restarted project aims to reconstruct I-45 North between Houston’s downtown and the North Sam Houston Tollway to bring the road up to federal safety standards and accommodate a population that has doubled since the road was built in the 1950s and 1960s, according to TxDOT

Planned improvements include four nontolled managed lanes, bicycle and pedestrian features along frontage roads and cross streets, and trails parallel to bayous.

FHWA will monitor enforceable timelines around the project as part of the agreement, including on detailed design, stakeholder engagement, affordable housing initiatives, right-of-way acquisition and construction activities. 

TxDOT struck an agreement with city of Houston and Harris County officials to proceed in December 2022, also after almost two years of negotiations. The resulting memorandum of understanding addresses the project’s flood mitigation, affordable housing and congestion relief features.  

While announcing the local agreements, TxDOT said it will provide $30M of financial assistance for affordable housing in adjacent neighborhoods. But the project could not continue until TxDOT reached an agreement with FHWA.

The Voluntary Resolution Agreement between TxDOT and FHWA was signed Tuesday morning, one day shy of two years since the pause began.

The agreement is aimed at increasing public involvement with the project and will require two annual public meetings through the design and construction phases. Under the agreement, project leaders will create meaningful access for people with limited English proficiency.

"This agreement moves forward an important project, responds to community concerns, and improves the North Houston Highway Improvement Project in ways that will make a real difference in people's lives,” Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt said in the announcement. “Through this agreement the community will have a greater voice in the design and throughout the project's life cycle.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat based in Houston, has been an advocate of better communication with the people and businesses impacted by the project. Jackson Lee told the Houston Chronicle the agreement doesn’t address every concern, though it represents progress.

"We are much further along than we ever could have been, and that is the power of the federal government," she told the Chronicle. "The community was not listened to, and I applaud the complaints that have been listened to have led us to this agreement."

Protests last year hoped to stop the teardown of the vacant Lofts at the Ballpark apartment complex at 610 St. Emanuel St. — one of TxDOT’s first scheduled EaDo demolitions. Houston Business Journal reported in September that the demolitions had resumed.

The new agreements mean the project is now on track to start significant work in 2027, six years later than TxDOT planned in 2020, according to the Chronicle article.

Other actions agreed to in the Voluntary Resolution Agreement include:

  • Mitigating displacements, relocations, housing and other community impacts.
  • Drainage improvements to reduce flooding.
  • Parks, open space, trails, pedestrian and bicycle facilities.
  • Community access during construction.
  • Highway footprint reduction.
  • Structural highway caps.
  • Air quality mitigation.

federal review of TxDOT’s responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act concluded with no findings, TxDOT announced.