HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Monday that the City of Houston, Harris County, and TxDOT have reached an agreement regarding the massive I-45 expansion project.
During the joint press conference, the City of Houston signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining the community's priorities when it comes to the continuation of the North Houston Highway Improvement Project.
This comes after the county's lawsuit against the state over the civil rights implications of the highway and a federal pause on the project by the Federal Highway Administration.
The agreement includes plans for housing assistance for displaced Houstonians, updating draining and flood mitigation, creating safe bike lanes and trails, maintaining city parks, and more.
Houston's MOU focuses on the following six categories:
- Housing and community cohesion
- Drainage and flood mitigation
- Reducing the NHHIP footprint during detailed design
- Transit and MaX Lanes
- Connectivity of streets and neighborhoods
- Parks and open green spaces
"I will quickly say that there is no perfect design, and it doesn't say that everyone will be pleased, but... I think you have an excellent project that will move forward that will benefit the greater good of the Houston community, Harris County, and the region," Turner said at a press conference.
Harris County's MOU, which is expected to be signed Thursday during their commissioner's court meeting, focuses on the following four categories:
- Air quality
- Flood mitigation
"This agreement is reflective of so many coming together from different points of view. I think as Mayor Turner alluded to, there were different approaches to ensuring this project is better," Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia said.
The highway will not only be modernized primarily by the usage of its current footprint to reduce congestion, but it will also set a precedent for how roads can benefit communities, according to information provided during the news conference.
The plan entails providing more pedestrian and bike trails along green spaces, such as in White Oak Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, and Emancipation Trail, and the minimization of the highway's current presence in green spaces, in addition to flood mitigation, and the reduction of historic flood patterns.
The project will connect communities via current streets, such as Andrews Street, Lamar Street, and McKinney Street.
It will also provide assistance and compensation to residents displaced by the construction in relocating so they can stay within their communities.
Bob Harvey, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, provided the following statement about the agreement:
"Houston is a region committed to growth and creating opportunity, and the I-45 project accomplishes both. Improved mobility of both people and goods is essential to Houston's long-term success, and this project moves our region forward while creating jobs, reconnecting neighborhoods, expanding greenspaces, and addressing flood mitigation. Houston has long been a region where people work together, resolve differences, and accomplish great things to position all of us for a better future. This agreement signals that spirit remains alive and well in our community."
But Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo voiced her caution with the agreements.
"It's a framework, its a roadmap, it's a level of commitment, it's not the most binding language," Hidalgo said.
She says she is cautiously optimistic about these new agreements with TxDOT.
The estimated cost of the project has risen to $10 billion, and those fighting it think the key to stopping the freeway expansion rests along White Oak Bayou.
Over the weekend, Houstonians impacted by the project held a rally on the bayou.
They believed if the city were to designate the entire White Oak Bayou trail system as a city park, that would force TxDOT to make changes to the plan.
Right now, only portions of White Oak Bayou are considered parks.
The project will see lanes of I-45 re-routed to flow alongside I-10 and the expansion of traffic lanes in the area.
Community leaders say the project will take away an important green space in the city.
"We are understanding that the federal government has specific guidelines, and if there is an actual park that is in a city, then that changes the way a freeway can be built," City Councilmember Letitia Plummer said.
The project, slated to take 10 years to complete, has no start date as it remains on pause for an investigation by the Federal Highway Association, looking into concerns of civil rights violations, as the people and businesses slated to be displaced are largely in minority neighborhoods.
Our partners at Community Impact Newspaper contributed to this report.