HOUSTON — Activists with Stop TxDOT I-45 marched against TxDOT's I-45 expansion project in downtown Houston Tuesday night.
The controversial plan to widen I-45 is on pause while the Federal Highway Administration investigates the project's impact on low-income and minority communities.
Despite the pause, TxDOT appeared to be moving forward on a major demolition of an affordable housing complex in east downtown -- sparking backlash in the community.
"Houston is not ready for what this project will bring," Michael Morris said.
The Lofts at the Ballpark are already fenced off and look to be ready to be torn down. The apartments near Minute Maid Park now sit vacant. TxDOT purchased the property and helped relocate residents elsewhere. All of it happened before the feds ordered a pause on the project due to an ongoing civil rights investigation. It's why TxDOT says it's ready to move forward.
But, on Wednesday, Houston City Councilwoman Letitia Plummer announced that the demolition permit is now on pause.
"Affordable housing should never be demolished for a freeway," she said in a tweet.
The whole situation isn't sitting well with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
"They were only supposed to take 165 units," Jackson Lee said. "They're taking 375."
Jackson Lee was back in Washington on Tuesday night trying to stop the demolition. Back in Houston, protesters marched, working to do the same.
"If TxDOT tears down these buildings this week or any week, that sends a message that TxDOT doesn't care about the concerns of the community," Morris said.
Activists said there's no need to demolish any buildings until after the feds conclude their investigation. They said it will prove the I-45 expansion project negatively and disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities.
"Tearing down dense housing next to transit for a highway is a complete opposite way we should be going as a city," protester Kevin Quist said.
TxDOT has not specifically answered when the apartments will actually come down, but they did send in this statement:
"TxDOT acquired this property after the property owner requested advanced acquisition and we came to agreement on terms for acquisition in June 2021. As of May 2022, all tenants have been successfully relocated in compliance with 49 Code of Federal Regulations Part 24 - Uniform Relocation Assistance (URA) Regulations. Delaying demolition presents significant public health and safety concerns and would require resources to keep the buildings secured.
"Vacant buildings such as these have attracted illicit and illegal activity which would be burdensome to the city, local communities, businesses in the vicinity and potentially exposes TxDOT to an array of liabilities. TxDOT has consistently been responsive to and respectful of FHWA's terms and conditions regarding the NHHIP "pause" and demo of this property is NOT in conflict with those terms, neither in rule nor spirit."