Neighbors, 'Stop TxDOT I-45' fighting for remaining parts of EaDo housing complex

Wednesday, October 19, 2022
Group against I-45 expansion project says it feels ignored by TxDOT
The controversial I-45 expansion project, which aims to alleviate the demands of a growing city of Houston, is on hold as a federal investigation gets underway over its impacts to communities of color.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As a part of highway I-45's expansion project, the demolition of prime living locations in East Downtown soon-to-be underway are forcing many people to vacate their residences.

The Texas Department of Transportation has demolished one of three buildings that make up the Lofts at the Ballpark apartment complex near Minute Maid Park and PNC Stadium.

"People were living here and this is only a fraction of the people who are being displaced up and down the freeway," Ally Smither, a volunteer with the activist group Stop TxDOT I-45, said.

One family was forced to leave their apartment unit at Clayton Homes just blocks away, also under TxDOT's direction.

"At best, unfair, at worst, criminal," Jasmine Gaston, a displaced resident, said.

The low-income housing was certainly in need of renovation, but she says she was promised help with a move within a 2-mile radius. Gaston says the promise was not fulfilled.

TxDOT has been buying up properties and vacating residents to prepare for its I-45 expansion project.

The nearly $9 billion plan, touted as a way to handle the demands of a growing city, means tearing down more than 1,000 homes and apartment units along with businesses and churches in historically Black and brown neighborhoods.

The 20-year project, though, is now under a federal pause because of how it disproportionately impacts communities of color.

"The Federal Highway Administration is investigating the I-45 expansion for civil rights violations," Smither said. "They're investigating the whole project, so it could not even happen in the way that it's designed currently. So to tear down buildings prematurely is wasteful, especially considering Houston is in a housing crisis."

The controversy has spurred activists like Smither to join residents like Gaston in their fight against the project.

"We've seen with the Katy Freeway, wider highways don't work," said Smither.

For years the group Stop TxDOT I-45 has staged rallies and protests, but residents like Gaston say the state agency has done nothing to alternate their plans.

"It makes me feel ignored. It makes me feel entrapped. It makes me feel helpless," Gaston said.

This group is hoping to save the two remaining apartment buildings at the Lofts at the Ballpark that sit adjacent to PNC Stadium.

They hope the now-vacant buildings can be turned into affordable housing.

TxDOT says it has put a hold on demolition for those two buildings and are exploring other feasible options for alternative use of the properties.

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