The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is set to embark on a colossal I-45 expansion project, scheduled to commence in 2024 and spanning until 2038. This extensive initiative aims to transform the road network in Downtown Houston while adding lanes to the major north-south highway corridor, running from the northern stretch of Beltway 8 through Downtown.
The $9.7 billion project has garnered praise from TxDOT for its potential to enhance safety, alleviate congestion, and serve as an economic stimulus. However, it has also encountered opposition from community groups expressing concerns about environmental impacts and the displacement of residents and businesses within the project’s footprint.
Divided into three segments, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project entails the following components:
- Segment 1: A $907 million project along I-45 from Loop 610 to Beltway 8
- Segment 2: A $1.6 billion project along I-45 from I-10 to Loop 610 and parts of Loop 610
- Segment 3: A $5.7 billion project along I-45 from I-10 to I-69, covering parts of I-10 and some downtown roadways
Key features of the project include the addition of four managed lanes on I-45 from Downtown Houston to Beltway 8 North, rerouting I-45 parallel to I-10 on the north side of downtown and parallel to I-69 on the east side of downtown, as well as incorporating bicycle and pedestrian amenities along frontage roads and cross streets.
Grady Mapes, Director of TxDOT Houston District Comprehensive Development Agreements program, revealed that construction will commence with Segment 3. This segment involves rerouting portions of I-45, straightening I-69, widening it from eight lanes to 10 or 12 lanes in each direction, and constructing a new downtown connector from I-45 to replace the Pierce Elevated.
Despite opposition and concerns raised by community groups, TxDOT officials expressed their commitment to the project. Cap structures, serving as bridges over the highway, are being planned at three locations, potentially transforming into public gathering spaces with parklike amenities.
Approximately $5 billion of the project is currently funded, with around 80% of the funding coming from federal sources. However, the project’s scale necessitates the displacement of more than 1,400 homes and businesses, as well as places of worship, schools, and medical facilities. TxDOT asserts that assistance programs are in place to support those affected, and no displacements will occur until adequate replacement housing is identified.
The I-45 expansion project, in development since 2002, received a record of decision in early 2021, paving the way for construction. Opposition grew over concerns about environmental impacts, leading to a lawsuit by Harris County and an investigation by the Federal Highway Administration. A memorandum of understanding was finalized in December 2022, and a voluntary resolution agreement (VRA) was signed in March 2023, outlining requirements for TxDOT.
While the VRA aims to address community concerns, some, including the group Stop TxDOT I-45, remain skeptical about its effectiveness. TxDOT is moving forward with plans to send the drainage project (3B1) out for construction bids in June, with work expected to begin in September or October. Construction on Segment 2 is slated for 2028. TxDOT remains open to feedback and may consider different meeting formats in the future. The I-45 expansion project continues to be a subject of debate and scrutiny as it progresses through its multi-year timeline.