Bringing Ethics, Equity, and Empathy to Houston, TX Highways
Earlier this year, the Texas Department of Transportation’s plans to widen I-45 in Houston hit the headlines. The $7.5bn project, under study for more than 20 years, recommends adding four managed lanes on 15-miles of urban interstate as well as re-routing and realigning significant segments of I-45, I-10, and I-69 in the downtown area. When TxDOT published a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and provided 30-days in which to comment on thousands of pages of highly technical documentation, Harris County asked Toole Design to join a team of experts to prepare a response.
The County, working closely with a coalition that includes the City of Houston, wanted to understand the likely effects of this huge highway expansion on the quality of life in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the corridor, particularly vulnerable communities. Our analysis revealed some telling statistics and stories:
- Equity: TxDOT plans acknowledge the displacement of 1,000+ homes and 340 businesses; Toole Design found a significantly disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx communities that already bear the brunt of the noise, pollution, danger, and severance created by the existing freeway. Every “reasonable alternative” in the FEIS exacerbated the negative impacts on Black and Latinx communities. In addition, the handful of places where TxDOT proposed to reduce the footprint of the highway were in or near the few predominantly white neighborhoods affected by the project.
- Congestion: Traffic models from 20 years ago, still being relied upon today, predicted a 40% increase in traffic volumes. Not only has that not materialized, but traffic has actually declined slightly since 2000, even before the effects of COVID.
- Safety: the FEIS says widening will increase travel speeds and safety on I-45; this directly contradicts TxDOT’s own data and studies that show increased speeds and travel lanes decrease safety.
- Alternatives: the FEIS was supposed to look at “all options;” however strategies based on Transportation Demand Management, transit, system improvements, and policy changes were not considered, or were incomplete.
Our analysis enabled the County to submit detailed and compelling comments on the project, summarized in this letter from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo to TxDOT. Hidalgo also used the team’s work to prepare a powerful video: Top 5 Against I-45. Harris County is currently suing TxDOT “to help elevate voices in our community that have been set aside for too long… We cannot continue to support transportation policy that prioritizes cars over people.”
Toole Design Appoints Mid-Atlantic and Western Region Directors
This month, Toole Design welcomes Cipriana Thompson Eckford, PE, PTOE to role of Regional Operations Director for the Mid-Atlantic region. Cipriana will oversee technical staff based in the company’s Mid-Atlantic offices.
“We’re thrilled to have Cipriana join our team,” says Jennifer Toole, President of Toole Design. “She brings a wealth of experience in managing successful teams of people, and she has extensive local project knowledge and contacts throughout the industry. Not only that, but she is a talented traffic engineer with a passion for achieving successful outcomes for underserved communities.”
“I’m excited to join the value-centered and talented team at Toole Design,” Thompson Eckford says. “I am looking forward to advancing the tremendous technical expertise on staff, and to building our growth, presence, and influence in the industry. I’m especially keen to help achieve our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in the Mid-Atlantic region.”
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Brooke DuBose, AICP has been promoted to the role of Regional Operations Director for the Western U.S., covering our offices in Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, and Seattle. DuBose was previously the Oakland office director; Megan Wooley-Ousdahl, AICP steps in to fill that role in Oakland. “It’s so rewarding to promote talented staff to take on some of our most challenging roles,” notes Jennifer Toole. “Brooke has helped the Oakland office flourish and it’s going to be exciting to see her guide our Western offices through the next several years of growth.”
Kansas Active Transportation Stories
The Kansas Department of Transportation is developing a new Active Transportation Plan for the first time in more than two decades. The plan looks at “the needs of people who walk, cycle, use mobility assistance devices, scoot, and more,” according to the DOT. “The plan will focus on how things can be improved through better policies, planning, design, and partnerships with other state agencies and local communities.”
Tammy Sufi, AICP, a Senior Planner based in Kansas City who is working on the plan, reports that the ATP is being framed by six active transportation stories, told in this series of videos. The stories reflect the benefits of an active transportation network and lifestyle, capturing the words of ordinary Kansans with a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences. Sufi notes that “we worked with a terrific Denver-based video company, Two Hundred, and local firm Vireo to put the videos together and we couldn’t be more proud of the way they turned out. They really make the plan personal.”
- We are wrapping up National Engineering Month in Canada. During March, we featured six Canadian engineers – including two working in our Boston office – and they each shared their career story in a series of articles you can see here.
- Congratulations to Jeremy Chrzan, PE, PTOE on his appointment as Vice-President of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals. Toole Design is a long-time sponsor and supporter of APBP and is proud to have staff members serve on the board of the organization.
- APBP hosted two informative webinars on the update to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) in March. Jeremy Chrzan, PE, and Katy Sawyer, PE were among the panelists sharing their insight into recommended changes to the all-important MUTCD. The docket for comments is open until May 14.
- Spencer Boomhower, Senior Visualization Specialist and video game artist, can be heard discussing ways to better visualize civil engineering projects on the March 9 edition of the Beyond CAD podcast; which is on the website that claims to “make civil engineering look good.”