A federal lawsuit has been filed in an effort to stop a $7 billion highway project in Houston, Texas.
The lawsuit was filed by Harris County Attorney, Christian D. Menefee, on Thursday, March 11, and proposes that the project would negatively impact minority residents who would be displaced as a result of construction. Local officials say the project won’t improve the traffic congestion in the area and that the Texas Department of Transportation failed to consider the environmental impacts on neighborhoods and businesses in their plans.
According to TxDOT, the proposed 10-year construction project would improve 24 miles along Interstate 45 and several other roadways, providing safer and more efficient travel for area residents as well as accommodate the transition to electric and self-driving vehicles.
The Federal Highway Administration asked the Texas Department of Transportation to put the project on hold earlier this week so that the civil rights and environmental concerns could be reviewed.
“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.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and other officials argued that the project would also create more flooding problems in the area and would displace families in more than 1,000 homes and apartments, 344 businesses, two schools, and five places of worship.
“We can’t continue to support transportation that prioritizes cars over people,” said Judge Hidalgo.
Organizations such as Stop TxDOT I-45 have made it their mission to protest the construction and find an alternative to the current project.
“This project is going to take at least 10 years to construct. It will be around for another 20-30 years, and so this isn’t something that can be fixed if we don’t get it right,” said Susan Graham, co-founder of Stop TxDOT I-45 to KHOU 11 News.
Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director James Bass said in a statement that his agency’s plans on working with officials, residents and others on refining the project “may now be in jeopardy due to the lawsuit.”
“We look forward to discussing our efforts to mitigate concerns about implementing the (project’s) vision for I-45,” Bass said.