“I’m losing my home, what they are giving me won’t buy me a home anywhere in Houston, so I gotta be a renter now in a totally different area of town so white privilege suburban people can have a better drive into downtown,” says Amy Johnson who grew up near downtown and is one of the 160 single-family homes slated to be demolished to make way for the I-45 expansion project and realignment to relieve congestion on a segment of the freeway that sees constant accidents and traffic jams as more commuters make their daily trips into downtown Houston from the northern suburbs; places like Spring, The Woodlands, Tomball, Klein and Conroe.
Under the TcDOT plan, 160 single-family homes, 433 apartments units, 486 public and low income housing units, 344 businesses, five paces of worship and two schools are to be removed to make way for interstate 45 to be realigned to follow I-10 over to I-69/59 where it will then turn south and pass by downtown Houston on the city’s eastern side along with I-69. The downtown segment will be put underground with green park space above for residents to enjoy.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has halted its process towards funding part of the project after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sued TxDOT earlier this year saying the state agency failed to adequately take into consideration the needs and impact to local neighborhoods, businesses and environmental issues.
TxDOT says the new expansion and realignment will alleviate traffic congestion, reduce accidents by 30% and improve travel and commute times by 35% during rush hour and bring new transportation options for local residents. This past Spring the project was given the go ahead by the HGAC regional transportation council which comprises the Houston and Galveston areas. All of the votes from the suburban areas said yes to the expansion while the urban areas voted no. It passed by 1 voted.
Johnson says she has started to look for a new home but says she inherited her home from her parents and grew up here, “this is my home.” Housing prices in this area are significantly below the average home price of the Houston area, which is currently at $280,000. Johnson says she has been looking for a home to buy but there are none for sale in her area and a little further our and prices start to jump. The state wants to give her $65,000 for her home she says. “It’s not a fancy home, but it’s where I grew up, and it’s where I raise my kids, it has memories, and community. Instead of slowly building value and net worth like most homeowners, I will have to become a renter. I don’t make enough to qualify for a new home mortgage, I mean my credit is actually good, but I’m still poor.”
The new TxDOT plan is to bring freeways 288, I-45, I-69/US Hwy 59 into a single massive freeway and interchange sitting directly on the east-side of the downtown business district with a portion of it underground to open up green space and parks for local residents above the new supermassive freeway route with parts of it as large at 18 or 20 lanes wide. Houston, the nation's fourth largest city, is ranked as one of the cities with the worst traffic in the United States. It has a growing metro area of 7.5 million with some projections that it will grow to 10 million by 2035.