As the first city incorporated by African Americans in the state of Texas, Independence Heights is a place of heritage and culture. By building over historic land in favor of expanding highway infrastructure, the proposed North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) sacrifices American history. Lower Independence Heights, recognized by the federal government in the National Registered Historic District for its significance in U.S. history, should be protected and preserved under the requirement of the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Preservation efforts should also extend to cultural sites, such as the Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church. Located along I-610 North Loop in the Southeast corner of Independence Heights, Greater Mount Olive has been a part of the community for over 100 years and provides a community gathering space, assists homeless children in local schools, and even served as a disaster recovery center following Hurricane Harvey. Severely damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008, the church was finally rebuilt in 2016.
DESTRUCTION OF HOMES
Over time, highway construction has eroded the historical community of Independence Heights. The neighborhood has seen a pattern of government agencies taking from residents in order to build infrastructure, including highways that don't serve the community but are rather designed to move people through Independence Heights and into suburbs. Continual property acquisitions and rising land prices make it difficult for families to relocate within the community, displacing residents from their families and support networks, negating efforts to densify the population and attract economic investments, and further eroding the neighborhood's history, culture, and resources.
The NHHIP threatens to displace vital businesses in Independence Heights, including childcare providers, general stores, local eateries, and other supportive services. Without businesses to provide essential goods, services, and employment opportunities, Independence Heights risks increased displacement, economic hardship and a lower quality-of-life for residents.
Little White Oak Bayou is a tributary of White Oak Bayou that runs through Independence Heights. Consequently, 63.4% of Independence Heights land parcels are located within the 100-year floodplain. Due to the current lack of adequate flood control, Independence Heights has suffered threats from different buyouts along Little White Oak Bayou for freeway expansion and flood control. Additionally, heavy rains result in neighborhood flooding due to the inadequacy of the culvert installed under the I-45/I-10 interchange in 1962. Despite initiatives to address flooding, many homes in Independence Heights will remain located in floodplain, resulting in disruption of the social cohesion of Independence Heights, as well as families being subject to residential displacement, property buyouts, and forced relocation.
The NHHIP would bring 26 school campuses, including Roosevelt Elementary, within 500 feet of freeways. The construction and increased traffic following project completion will lead to higher concentrations of pollutants, which are linked to respiratory and circulatory illnesses. Some children who attend these schools already suffer from respiratory illnesses, such as asthma. Expanding the highway will only exacerbate health problems, which will also impact students' academic success and livelihoods.
PEDESTRIANS, CYCLISTS & WHEELCHAIRS
Residents of the Independence Heights walk, ride bicycles, use wheelchairs, connect on busses, and move in cars. However, car-oriented infrastructure, such as I- 45, often acts as a barrier to safe pedestrian, bicycle, and accessible mobility in the neighborhood. The I-45 expansion will make the highway wider, increasing the interaction between pedestrians and the highway, including people crossing beneath the highway to and from residences on one side and commercial locations on other; people walking to and from destinations and bus stops (e.g., METRO bus routes #23, #36 or #56) along the highway access road, where speeds will routinely exceed 40 or 50 mph.
Since 2010, a majority of the 21 pedestrian and bike crashes near Roosevelt Elementary School have occurred under or next to the freeway; children who attend Roosevelt and reside within its attendance zones cross beneath the highway. Additionally, the NHHIP will expand the width of I-45 and increase vehicle speeds, leading to greater danger for pedestrians and cyclists.