Harris County Attorney's Office suing TxDOT over I-45 expansion project

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Harris County leaders say the Texas Department of Transportation failed to consider environmental impacts on neighborhoods and businesses in its I-45 expansion project.

On Thursday, Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in order to stop the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, which expands I-45, until changes are made.

SEE ALSO: Moving I-45 to other side of downtown being called 1 of nation's most wasteful projects

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project calls for I-45 to be lifted from its current route to follow U.S. 59. The freeway will flow along the east side of the Central Business District and pair up with I-10 before splitting off north to continue its current path.

"Expanding I-45 in this project is a one in a lifetime opportunity to expand our region's mobility. But we can't allow TxDOT to cut corners and fail to live up to their duty to consider environmental impacts in this project," Menefee said during a briefing on Thursday.

TxDOT and Houston city officials say the plan gets people out of single cars, will improve quality of life, and even decrease freeway crashes by 30%.

But the Harris County attorney's office is asking TxDOT to properly consider the impacts of the project.

"We cannot continue to support transportation policy that prioritizes cars over people. The current system maximizes the number of cars that can be on the road at any one time, as opposed to maximizing the ability of people to get to where they need to go," Harris County Judge Hidalgo said. "We know that we are the most dangerous region in the country when it comes to traffic accidents. Wider highways do not make the highway safer for drivers in the community."

Hidailgo said an expert projection shows the current proposed plan would decrease traffic for a short-term, and it will only then increase again.

During the briefing, county leaders said they have talked with TxDOT multiple times, presented alternative plans, but they have been ignored.

"Over several months, Harris County and the city of Houston engaged stakeholders and came up with recommendations with the goal of achieving the result that would not only recognize the objectives of the project but also minimize the risk to local neighborhoods and commnities, and TxDOT failed to give those recommendations a fair shake." Menefee said.

Menefee added that in this suit, they're asking a court to require TxDOT to do what it's supposed to do under federal law.

SEE ALSO: I-45 project may displace families in 1,079 homes, study shows

Leaders also say this project could displace families and businesses, and cause health issues.

"[About] 1,079 residential housing units - both single-family and multi-family housing, 344 businesses, five places of worship and two schools would be displaced by this project," Hidalgo said. This project is bad for our health. Schools located near freeways already see much higher rates of asthma than other schools. At least 26 schools and daycares would be brought within 500 feet of the freeway."

According to officials, the cost of the project is $7 billion.
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