HOUSTON (AP) — A $9 billion highway widening project being proposed in the Houston area could become an important test of the Biden administration’s commitment to addressing what it has said is a history of racial inequity with infrastructure projects in the U.S.

The project’s critics, including community groups and some residents, say it won’t improve the area’s traffic woes and would subject mostly Black and Latino residents to increased pollution, displacement and flooding while not improving public transportation options.

The proposed 10-year project to reconstruct Interstate 45 for 24 miles and many other highways, along with several others, is opposed by its supporters. These roads will improve safety, reduce congestion, address flood relief and help evacuate disaster victims.

Although the project has been under construction for more than 20 years, it has been put on hold by the Federal Highway Administration since March. The agency is reviewing civil rights violations and concerns about environmental justice that were raised regarding the plan. Harris County is Houston’s home county. filed a federal lawsuit alleging state officials ignored the project’s impacts on neighborhoods.

As Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised to address the issue, this dispute about the project is a result. racial equity a top priorityHis department.

The impacts of “misguided transportation policy” is something that has “disproportionately happened in Black and brown communities and neighborhoods,” Buttigieg said last December in response to a question from Rodney Ellis, a commissioner in Harris County.

It is anticipated that the I-45 project will result in more than 1000 homes and apartments being lost, along with 344 business establishments, 2 schools, and 5 places of worship. This mostly happens in predominantly Black or Latino communities.

“It’s very racially unjust,” Molly Cook with Stop TxDOT I-45, one of the community groups opposing the project, said as she stood in a cul-de-sac in north Houston where 10 homes were expected to be torn down because of the widening. “We’re going to spend all this money to make the traffic worse and hurt a lot of people.”

Fabian Ramirez is 40 years old and has been living in Houston’s neighborhood since 1960. He said that the project could force him to sell any property he may have.

“It’s taken my family generations for me to get to this position where I can say, ‘This property right next to downtown is mine.’ And to have (the) government come and take the property away as soon as I obtain it, it’s nerve-wracking,” Ramirez said.

TxDOT and its five Texas Transportation Commission members, also known as TxDOT have rejected claims that their project fosters racial inequality. Agency spokesman Bob Kaufman said Tuesday that TxDOT “has worked extensively” with local governments and communities to “develop tangible solutions” to concerns.

“This project cannot be everything that everybody wants or that everybody believes in. However, it can be transformational for the region and the state,” commission member Laura Ryan said during an August meeting.

The commission has said if the federal government does not complete its investigation by the end of this month, it might review at its Dec. 9 meeting whether to pull the project’s state funding.

The Federal Highway Administration stated Tuesday that its review of the matter was ongoing.

Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston, believes the I-45 proposal continues a long history of infrastructure projects — including the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s — that have depreciated wealth in minority neighborhoods through the loss of homes and businesses and exacerbated inequality.

Ines Sigel is the interim executive director at LINK Houston. This non-profit focuses on transportation issues and opposes I-45 expansion. She said that what Houston’s federal government does could result in meaningful improvements that will benefit communities all across America.

Similar debatesOther U.S. cities include Charleston, South Carolina. There are other infrastructure and highway projects underway. Mobile, AlabamaLos Angeles, and.

“Unless local and state governments start saying we want to change our entire approach, and that highway expansion could be bad for the environment and we want fewer cars, then the Biden administration’s goals will be really difficult to achieve,” said Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

In the hopes of solving concerns regarding the project, Harris County officials put an end to their lawsuit against TxDOT last week. It was a surprise to some of the community groups that were fighting against this project.

But Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said last week that the pause is not an end to the lawsuit and she’s committed to ensuring the project is “forward thinking and … respects the health of the community.”

Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, a leading Houston area business group that backs the project, said his organization is optimistic that concerns will be resolved, “ensuring this important project for the Houston region will move forward.”

Roger Panetta, a retired history professor at Fordham University in New York, said those opposing the I-45 project will have an uphill battle, as issues of racism and inequity have been so persistent in highway expansions that it “gets very difficult to dislodge.”

Yen was reported by Washington.

Source: HuffPost.com.

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