Houston leaders vote to commit $100M in I-45 expansion project

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Transportation officials voted Friday to pledge more than $100 million to the Texas Department of Transportation as it prepares to revamp I-45 North.

It's a down payment on what could be one of the largest transportation projects in the country, re-routing I-45 near downtown and beyond.

Nearly 25 miles would be impacted at an estimated cost of $7 billion.

The vote took place at the Houston Galveston Area Council office, with members of the transportation policy council voting.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo requested the vote be delayed for several months because of questions involving adding more concrete to a city and county still recovering from Harvey.

"Our flood control district is still gathering data on flooding potential, and that won't be ready for six more months," she said.

ORIGINAL STORY: I-45 is moving around downtown

That delay was denied in a vote, and the pledge of $100 million to the state, plus $50 million more for flood mitigation, was approved. The funding is for one section of the project, from the North 610 Loop to I-10, north of downtown.

Property, including homes, have been identified as being in the path of the project.

The vote turned into a session for opponents to voice their minds. A member of a super-neighborhood group voiced her concerns if there were to be another evacuation for a hurricane or flood.

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"We'd be on 45, 59, and I-10 trying to get out of town. What are you thinking?"

One version of the project calls for I-45 to be rerouted, and the Pierce elevated to be eliminated. Some renderings suggest a new use could be as elevated park space. The freeway would instead parallel US-59, and dip below grade.

The underground tunnel would be covered by greenspace.

Community groups have raised concerns about air quality with schools nearby. A TxDOT representative said windows could be sealed and HEPA filters installed in air conditioning systems.

The impetus for the project is Houston's growth. More people mean more cars, but critics argue there's not enough emphasis on practical public transportation.

At Friday's meeting, there was discussion about using managed lanes to encourage two or more people in vehicles.

The start of construction on the first phase would not take place until late 2023, or early in 2024.

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