Jan 12, 2022 - Politics

I-35 expansion changes proposed

Traffic wends its way through I-35 in downtown Austin.
Traffic wends its way along I-35 in downtown Austin. Photo: Thomas Ryan Allison/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Aiming to ease opposition to its I-35 expansion plans, the Texas Department of Transportation is proposing some project changes.

Details: Among the suggested modifications by state and city engineers, per an internal City of Austin memo obtained by KUT:

  • Lower I-35 under more cross streets, including Holly Street and Woodland Avenue, and increase the number of pedestrian crossings.
  • Reduce speed limits on frontage roads, in keeping with speeds on Burnet Road, Lamar Boulevard and East Riverside Drive.
  • Shift frontage roads downtown entirely to the west side of the highway, freeing up the east side for more park land.

What they're saying: TxDOT and the City of Austin hope the project "reflects community values, is operationally efficient for local and regional traffic, and increases connectivity within Austin," per the memo, written by the city's assistant city manager for mobility and the TxDOT Austin district engineer.

The big picture: TxDOT has claimed that expanding I-35 is necessary to accommodate the region's booming population, improve emergency response times and reduce traffic.

Yes, but: Some traffic experts say expanding the highway will merely add more vehicles to Austin's roads.

Between the lines: As a political matter, TxDOT is trying to get key Austin officials on board with the issue that's likely to be front and center in a mayoral and city council election year.

But local opposition is likely to remain unmoved.

The bottom line: Interstates have long been scars across American cities, essentially serving as the other-side-of-the-tracks markers that railways once did — except they're bigger, harder to traverse and more unsightly.

What's next: TxDOT officials will talk over the proposed changes to its I-35 plans during a public meeting at 6pm at the Central Library on Jan. 25.

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