On the afternoon of Dec. 6, about 70 demonstrators marched through downtown Houston demanding the Texas Department of Transportation halt its plans to more than double the size of Interstate 45. The expansion would pave over large sections of the city’s 3rd Ward, 5th Ward and East End neighborhoods. If adopted, if will force many Black and brown residents out of their homes and displace hundreds of local businesses.
Historically, highway projects in Houston have been used to reinforce racial and class segregation. In the Third Ward’s working-class Black neighborhoods, highways divide and dismember the community.
Organizers against I-45 say that when developers and planners force highways into neighborhoods like those in the Third Ward, they are “creating a large, dangerous barrier between residential areas and economic centers.”
These highways were built for the benefit of wealthier residents at the expense of working-class Black and Latino communities, who are more heavily impacted by Houston’s inadequate public transportation and don’t benefit from car-centered interstates.
The expansion would also have a detrimental impact on students and teachers in public schools along the proposed route. Nearby Bruce Elementary School has a 7.2 percent asthma rate among students, over twice the average rate in the Houston area. The expansion would bring the interstate 37.4 percent closer to the school, increasing traffic and air pollution for students disproportionately struggling with respiratory issues. Some 20 percent of these students walk to school.
According to the I-45 Expansion Impacts website, the expansion would displace 1,079 homes, two schools, five places of worship, 344 businesses and nearly 25,000 jobs. It would also deeply affect Houston’s homeless population. Tent encampments that shelter the rising number of homeless in Houston will be displaced to make way for a lifeless slab of cement. TxDOT regularly brings in police to violently sweep these homeless encampments.
Stop TxDOT I-45, which organized Sunday’s protest, is a grassroots organization dedicated not only to putting a stop to TxDOT’s “Highway Improvement” Project, but is challenging Houston’s transportation policy and advocating for “strategic, inclusive, and equitable transportation in Texas.” In a statement given to Liberation News, StopTxDOT I-45 organizer Gabriella explained why they are organizing the protests.
“[The I-45 expansion] would predominantly affect low-income communities that have already been ravaged by a violent and atrocious history of freeways that have been used to divide communities. We also know that more lanes means more congestion, not the opposite. More concrete means more flooding. It’s going to bring several schools within 500 feet of the freeway, so students and teachers will be breathing in even more cancerous particulate matter. So there’s just really no reason to support this project and we’re coming together to defend our neighbors from displacement and to protect the historic legacy of Fifth Ward and East End.”
During the march, protesters made stops at several historic landmarks where a “tour guide” explained their cultural significance to the community. Several people used chalk to mark the ground near important landmarks with the words “TxDOT wants a highway here” to warn the community of the threat.
Once at Guadalupe Plaza Park, local residents spoke out about how the expansion would disrupt their lives and uproot their homes. Protesters, participants and visitors then wrote hundreds of letters to local legislators with the demand that the expansion not be approved. Instead of more destructive highways to nowhere, they want to see the city invest in public transportation improvements.
Organizers have already won one victory — after their protest on Dec. 6, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, requested a time extension for public comment on the project. According to both Lee and StopTxDOT I-45 organizers, the weeks-long public comment is far too short for the decades of impact it will have on local communities.