TxDOT Must Address the I-45 Expansion Impacts Before Receiving Local Funds

Kristen Schlemmer | July 26, 2019

Bayou City Waterkeeper, represented by our legal intern Reagan Lutter, joined a packed, energetic house today at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, where H-GAC’s Transportation Policy Council considered whether to authorize $100 million in funding for the I45 expansion project. The project recently was deemed “one of the nation’s biggest highway boondoggles” in a report prepared by the U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group, which identified unnecessary – and extremely costly – highway projects across the United States.

More than 50 community advocates, elected officials, HISD representatives, and non-profit organizations, along with local businessman and celebrity Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, urged the Transportation Policy Council – composed of local governmental representatives, including members of the Houston City Council and Harris County Commissioners’ Court – to delay its vote until 2020 and effectively compel the Texas Department of Transportation to address a range of environmental, equity, public health, flooding, and land use issues before moving forward.

Bayou City Waterkeeper asked that before the Transportation Policy Council authorizes a massive expenditure, the Department of Transportation first must resolve the project’s implications for flooding and water quality and show the highway’s expansion will not undermine the billions of dollars being invested by Harris County through the voter-approved flood bond and the City of Houston under its  wastewater consent decree. (Other comments were captured in real-time in this twitter thread by local writer and environmental advocate Allyn West.)

After hearing the comments, which reflected overwhelming opposition to approving funding for the controversial TxDOT project, the Transportation Policy Council voted to move forward. Only Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo voted against the proposal; Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia elected to abstain from voting.

Reagan Lutter’s public comment on behalf of Bayou City Waterkeeper is reproduced below.

 

My name is Reagan Lutter and I am a law student at the University of Houston speaking today on behalf of Bayou City Waterkeeper, a local non-profit organization that uses law, policy, and science to protect and restore waterways, preserve wetlands, and fight for resilience from flooding for communities in Harris County and throughout the greater Houston area.

Bayou City Waterkeeper joins other organizations and community members today to request that the Council delay its vote on this resolution. Respectfully, this vote is premature. TxDOT must take the time to address and problem-solve the many concerns raised by people living in neighborhoods along the project corridor.

Along with the many concerns raised by the organizations and individuals before you today, TxDOT must account for how this project will worsen flooding. For instance, Segment 2 will convert up to 27 acres of much-needed open space to impermeable concrete. Adding more concrete to this area will increase runoff into our already-burdened drainage system and worsen both local and pass-through flooding in the area. Further, many of the schools along I-45 are already in areas ranked by FEMA as most prone to flooding; through this project, TxDOT should address, not exacerbate, this flooding. Using the more accurate data gathered after Hurricane Harvey, TxDOT must show that this project will not worsen flooding for area communities. TxDOT must show that this project will not undermine local efforts to make the greater Houston region more resilient to flooding, including Harris County’s $2.5 billion flood bond initiative. This Council should not vote on this resolution until TxDOT addresses these serious flooding concerns.

This Council also should not vote until TxDOT evaluates and accounts for how increased runoff from the expanded highway will degrade local water quality. Runoff often carries floatable debris and pollutants into the nearby bayous. As a result of this project, more floatables and more pollutants will enter the TCEQ § 303(d) impaired waters of Buffalo Bayou, White Oak Bayou, and Little White Oak Bayou. This project should leave us and future generations better off– not make our already impaired waters even more polluted. TxDOT must show that this project will not undercut the City of Houston’s recent $2 billion commitment to improve water quality by repairing its wastewater infrastructure. Until TxDOT addresses these concerns about the impact of Segment 2 on local water quality, this Council’s vote is premature.

The TxDOT I-45 expansion seriously threatens flood resiliency and water quality. We urge the Council to delay its vote on this resolution to allow TxDOT more time to address the public’s concerns. Thank you.

 

Reagan Lutter is a rising second-year law student at the University of Houston Law Center. After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sustainability, Reagan joined the Teach For America Corps and taught science at a Dallas ISD middle school for two years before deciding to pursue her J.D.. In her spare time, Reagan enjoys baking, exploring Houston, and spending time with her friends and family. She is passionate about sustainable water management and wetlands conservation and is honored to be a part of Bayou City Waterkeeper’s efforts.