Jun 28, 2022 - News

I-35's Austin expansion faces federal court battle

Traffic on I-35 in downtown Austin.

Traffic along northbound I-35 in downtown Austin. Photo: Mikala Compton/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

The widening of I-35 is destined for a long, contentious fight, as a trio of nonprofits is now suing the state highway department over its plans.

Catch up quick: The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) wants to widen and make other alterations to the 28-mile stretch between Pflugerville and Buda.

  • But the nonprofits argue that the project is "wasteful and harmful."

Between the lines: Officials at the Texas Public Interest Research Group, Environment Texas and Rethink35 accuse the transportation department of breaking the highway expansion into three separate plans to avoid more rigorous, federally-required environmental review and public engagement.

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

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

What they're saying: "The public has a right to consider options for I-35 that will actually work, including alternatives to driving, not just expansion," said Rethink35 executive director Adam Greenfield. "This is also a major equity issue: Widening freeways worsens serious and fatal traffic crashes, air pollution, noise and carbon emissions, all of which disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color."

  • TxDOT officials did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

Flashback: KUT reported earlier this year state and city engineers were considering ways to ease opposition to the project, such as:

  • 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.

All those options remain under consideration, per a June 9 city memo.

The bottom line: Avoid traffic-heavy I-35 at all costs.


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