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What If Texas Ended Its Reliance On Highways … And Even Tore Them Down?

 Traffic on Interstate 35 in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Traffic on Interstate 35 in Austin.

From Texas Standard:

It’s something many Texans are all too familiar with: highway traffic. The typical solution for easing traffic is to add more lanes, or build entirely new highways.

But a new article in The Texas Observer indicates there’s evidence highway expansion leads to even more road congestion.

“For decades we’ve sort of known, as you add more capacity to a roadway, it seems to just fill up almost immediately,” said the Observer’s Executive Editor Megan Kimble. “That’s what happened with the Katy Freeway in Houston after an expansion was finished; traffic actually got worse.”

One alternative solutions? Tearing down Texas highways.

RELATED: Feds Put Houston’s I-45 Expansion Project On Hold

“A lot of people have modeled it, and some of that traffic will simply disappear,” Kimble said. “People will stop taking discretionary trips. And also, our surface-street network can actually absorb a lot more traffic than we think it can.”

Kimble says this isn’t a completely new idea. One well-known example of highway removal happened after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake near San Fransisco.

“[It] destroyed a stretch of highway there, the Embarcadero Freeway,” she said. “And while city leaders sort of wondered what to do, people just sort of maneuvered around it and got where they needed to go. And so the city decided to just remove that highway.”

There are dozens of cities across the country right now considering tearing down highways, Kimble says.

And as with most highways constructed across the United States, Texas’ highways have historically been built through or separating predominantly Black and Hispanic communities.

“Planners deliberately put highways through those areas, and in the process they demolish many, many homes. So, one professor says an estimated 37,000 homes a year were demolished between 1950 in 1960. So we’re talking about half-a-million people across the country lost their homes because of highway construction,” Kimble said.

And this isn’t just a problem that happened 60 years go; it continues today. Under the Biden administration, the plan to expand Interstate 40 in Houston is currently on hold. The Federal Highway Administration is looking into civil rights complaints based on the predominantly Black and Hispanic people in the communities that proposed new stretches of I-40 would cut through.

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Kristen Cabrera | Texas Standard