I attended the town hall hosted by Rep. Jessica Farrar on the I-45 expansion yesterday. Here are a few highlights:
- The opening presentation by Rice architecture prof Stephen Fox and preservationist David Bush was okay, but marred somewhat by the failure of Bush's slideshow on historical homes in the Near Northside. We were told that this will be available on the I-45 Coalition's webpage shortly. I'll link to it when I find it.
- One thing I didn't know from Fox's presentation was that what preceded I-45 was a linked network of parks around the bayous, including Woodland Park and the now mostly gond Hogg Park. I suppose building on green space is one way to sidestep eminent domain issues, though probably not a viable option around here nowadays.
- Next up was Dr. Winifred Hamilton from Baylor College of Medicine, who gave a long and amazingly detailed talk on the deleterious health effects of living and working near a freeway, mostly due to particulate matter in various emissions. The danger zone, where there's a measurable impact on one's health, is being less than 1000 feet from a highway, which she called the "pink zone" since that's how it's colored on her maps. Several dozen schools in Harris County, including Travis Elementary in the Heights, fall within the pink zone. This Press article on County Judge Bob Eckels has some good stuff on Hamilton's work as well - start on page four for that.
- The most provocative thing Dr. Hamilton talked about was a link between more roads/longer commutes and the spiraling health care costs in the US. Basically, more driving can be linked to things liked obesity and kidney problems, while more pollution can be linked to respiratory and pulmonary diseases, and all of these things require the kind of expensive, long-term care which insurance companies hate and which put enormous stress on family budgets. There's a political issue to be made out of this, but I'd have to think about it some more before I could turn it into sound bites. For now, I'm quite certain there's not a lot of people who've given this much consideration.
- Jim Blackburn and Drexel Turner answered a bunch of questions related to neighborhood and grassroots activism as a means to get TxDOT to do no harm to communities as it builds. The question I asked them is "Given that the people affected by the US59 widening (of whom Turner was a leader) got more or less what they wanted, and given that the people affected by the Katy Freeway widening more or less did not, what did one do right and the other do wrong, and what can we learn from that?" Their answer was basically "Have the right person in Congress represent you". Sheila Jackson Lee was credited for being a big help in getting the residents' wishes heard prior to the US59 widening, while John Culberson was excoriated as being unresponsive, indeed antagonistic, to anyone who was not on board with the existing Katy Freeway plans. Given than Jackson Lee represents the area affected by the I-45 widening, that's good news for us.
- Other advice from Blackburn and Turner: Have at least one alternate plan for TxDOT to consider, start raising money (Turner suggested $60K, Blackburn thought $25K might suffice) to pay for expert consulting for those alternate plans, be prepared to go into total opposition mode (which may mean filing suit) if you must, and get as many people involved as you can.
- I had another engagement, so I left before the I-45 Coalition made its presentation. I'm told that engineer and former City Council candidate Gonzalo Camacho showed a plan for turning I-45 into a tunnel system, which I must say I'm sorry I missed. I've sent him an email to inquire about that.
All in all, a useful experience. I understand there will be a writeup in Thursday's This Week section, so I'll look for that as well.Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 03, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack