I-35 Expansion Clears Final Hurdle; Construction to Start Next Year

TxDOT releases final Environmental Impact Statement

Photo by Jana Birchum

The Texas Department of Transportation’s I-35 expansion plan cleared its final hurdle today as TxDOT approved its own final Environmental Impact Statement and released its record of decision to begin construction early next year.

The $4.5 billion plans for the 8-mile stretch of I-35 between U.S. 290 East (the Manor Expressway) and U.S. 290 West (Ben White Boulevard) are detailed in around 600 pages, which will take a while to delve into. Local opposition group Rethink35 calls it “the expansion binge they’ve always talked about.”

The construction will include two new HOV lanes, the removal of the upper decks north of Downtown, and boulevard-style frontage road improvements. The city has posited a cap-and-stitch effort that would add decks over depressed lanes and bike/pedestrian paths on east-west crossings. But the city itself has to fund the estimated $800 million project.

After widespread community pushback, TxDOT recently agreed to several improvements, including a cap between Airport and 38 ½ Street, safe speed limits for frontage roads, and a $25 million boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake. Last month, Mayor Kirk Watson – who secured funding for the expansion as a state senator – sent a letter to advocates detailing these changes. Council Members Zo Qadri, Chito Vela, and Ryan Alter posted to the Council message board suggesting further improvements, including further stormwater runoff treatment, added non-vehicular crossings, and amended air quality/emissions analysis.

“We continue to disagree that expansion will solve our congestion challenges,” they wrote. “We continue to have serious concerns about the safety, environmental, and climate impacts of highway expansions in general … more cars set us back as a city on our climate equity, sustainability, and Vision Zero traffic safety goals.”

On Monday, Rethink35 announced a press conference on August 30 to reveal the next phase of its strategy to fight back. “As a heat dome scorches central Texas in record temperatures, there could be no greater insult than TxDOT announcing its decision to massively expand I-35 through Austin,” wrote Rethink35 Board President Adam Greenfield, calling it “a project that would divide our city with a heat-trapping asphalt chasm and worsen climate change, making future heat domes hotter and longer.”

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