I-45 Expansion Northside

Businesses such as H.E.R.O. Performance, which operates an exercise gym at 4114 North Fwy., figures to be impacted by the I-45 expansion project proposed by the Texas Department of Transportation. (Staff file photo)

State leaders are moving forward with a $7 billion plan to expand Interstate 45 through Houston, despite stiff opposition from some area residents.

The Texas Transportation Commission last week approved keeping the expansion project on the Texas Department of Transportation’s 10-year, $85 billion unified transportation program plan, according to a news release.

“The UTP reflects a continued focus on improving transportation safety as the top priority, maintaining our current system, addressing traffic congestion and improving statewide connectivity over the next decade,” said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., the chairman of the commission.

Advocates for the project say it would help reduce congestion in Houston, but opponents argue the freeway expansion would increase pollution and flooding risks, worsen traffic congestion and displace more than 1,000 homes and businesses in low-income communities of color.

“Wasting taxpayer dollars to meet the wishes of an out of state developer,” representatives for a group, called Stop TxDOT I-45, wrote on social media. “…For a wider highway that will make traffic worse. We will not be paved over.”

As part of the project, crews would widen Interstate 45 from downtown north to Beltway 8 in Houston in an effort to improve traffic flow, hurricane evacuation routes and stormwater drainage, along with accommodating high-occupancy, electric and self-driving vehicles.

The project would also add bike and pedestrian infrastructure, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Several local activists with Stop TxDOT joined people from across the state in Austin last month to voice opposition to the plan.

Despite state transportation officials moving forward with plans, it’s not yet clear when construction might actually begin.

The ongoing dispute over the project has drawn the attention of the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, which has asked the state department to halt progress on the project over civil rights concerns.

State transportation officials in announcing the expansion project would stay said they were working with federal officials to address concerns with the project, according to the news release.

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