On Tuesday, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced it had signed an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to resolve an issue between the two agencies in regard to the I-45 North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP).
The Voluntary Resolution Agreement (VRA) would take steps to address project impacts to the community and provide clear, enforceable timelines that would be monitored by FHWA as the TxDOT moves forward with NHHIP, including detailed design, stakeholder engagement, affordable housing initiatives, right-of-way acquisition, flood mitigation, and construction activities. The agreement also resolved the FHWA Title VI investigation into the project and lifts the agency’s pause on it.
“This agreement moves forward an important project, responds to community concerns, and improves the North Houston Highway Improvement Project in ways that will make a real difference in people’s lives. Through this agreement, the community will have a greater voice in the design and throughout the project’s life cycle,” said Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt. “We have lifted the pause, and with FHWA oversight, TXDOT may proceed with design and construction.”
The $9 billion project will reconstruct I-45 between Houston’s downtown and the North Sam Houston Tollway and bring the road up to federal safety standards. Improvements include increased modal options through four non-tolled managed lanes, bicycle and pedestrian features, and trails parallel to bayous within the right of way, as well as detention ponds, pump stations, and other flood mitigation tools. Officials said the project will also benefit air quality from less traffic congestion and fewer idling cars.
“This portion of I-45 was built in stages in the 1950s and 1960s, and the design remained essentially the same while the area population has doubled,” stated Marc Williams, TxDOT executive director. “The reconstruction of I-45 will address mobility needs for people and freight while also improving safety and a number of environmental mitigations that include critical measures to improve storm water drainage. Considering the recently executed agreements with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County, and now the FHWA, we are excited to get this critical infrastructure project moving with our partnering agencies.”
Actions included in the VRA include twice annual public meetings; mitigation of displacements, relocations, and other community impacts; drainage improvements, opens spaces including parks, trail, and bicycle facilities in the design; and a reduction in the highway’s footprint.