Confronting the Unequal Toll of Highway Expansion: Oni Blair, LINK Houston, & the Texas I-45 Debate (A)
- Advocacy and Lobbying
- Change Management
- Corporate Social Responsibility
- Government - State And Local
- Housing and Community Development
- Human Rights
- Marketing and Communication
- Poverty and Inequality
- Social and Urban Policy
- Social Services and Youth & Families
- Strategic Planning
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In this political strategy case, Oni K. Blair, newly appointed executive director of a Houston nonprofit advocating for more equitable transportation resources, faces a challenge: how to persuade a Texas state agency to substantially redesign a highway expansion project, already decades in the planning, in and around Houston?
When Blair was appointed head of LINK Houston, in August 2017, the project—to expand, modernize, and re-route a 25-mile stretch of Houston’s north-south highway, I-45, from the downtown center to the outer beltway north of town—was entering its final planning stage. Supported by powerful state leaders and stakeholders, the project was intended to address I-45’s safety and capacity problems, but critics questioned the plan on several grounds, especially given its adverse impacts on Black and Latinx neighborhoods—communities that had also borne the brunt of Houston’s highway construction in the past, a common pattern in American cities in the mid to late 20th century.
This case, centering the perspective of Blair, was written in two parts. In the A case, students learn about the design of the project, the benefits claimed by its proponents, the dangers flagged by its critics, the history of highway development in Texas, and the perspectives of residents in the Black and Latinx neighborhoods that would be most adversely affected. It ends with Blair’s realization that TxDOT’s public participation process will never lead to a serious reconsideration of the project’s design and poses the question, what should she do now? The B case picks up as Blair and her colleagues assess the political landscape. Who are the real decision-makers? And who might be in a position to influence them? It traces their battle within Texas to persuade the state to re-imagine the project—a battle that will eventually include a lawsuit, federal intervention, and a controversial political deal.
The case provides a vehicle for discussing how tools of political and policy strategy can be deployed by those outside the formal power structure. It allows for a wide-ranging discussion that includes defining the issue, identifying stakeholders and their interests, power-mapping, deciding on an organization’s role and goals, exploring the concept of “human-centered design,” and guiding a campaign that shifts and adjusts in response to events on the ground.
- Teaching Plan:
- Available with Educator Access
- Case Author:
- Pamela Varley
- Faculty Lead:
- Eric Rosenbach
- Pages (incl. exhibits):
- United States