Jan 30, 2024 - News

Highway expansion opponents head to the courts

Opponents of TxDOT's I-35 expansion plan rally outside the department's headquarters in Austin. Photo: Asher Price/Axios

Opponents of a massive I-35 expansion are turning to the courts to stymie the plan.

Driving the news: Nonprofit Rethink35 and a coalition of interest groups have filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation over its plans to widen 8 miles of I-35 from Texas 71/Ben White Boulevard to U.S. 290 as part of the I-35 Capital Express Central Project.

  • The coalition also filed a federal civil rights complaint arguing the expansion will "exacerbate decades of racial discrimination and segregation," displacing homes and businesses that are "predominately used by or provide services specifically to Black, Latino, and Native American communities."

Details: The federal lawsuit argues that TxDOT failed to properly examine the plan's environmental impacts and did not properly explore design alternatives to the expansion.

  • It also argues that TxDOT failed to give the public an opportunity to comment on a major change to the project and failed to find a replacement for parkland at Waller Beach that the agency intends to seize.
  • The civil rights complaint addressed to Pete Buttigieg and other federal officials claims that, seen against a history of racist transportation policies in Austin, TxDOT has intentionally engaged in discrimination.

Catch up quick: Both the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Court have passed resolutions calling on TxDOT to pause the project and address environmental issues.

  • But state officials have pledged to press on with the project, which they have said is necessary to accommodate the region's booming population, improve emergency response times and ease traffic congestion.

What they're saying: "TxDOT ignored those concerns, giving us no choice but to find remedy in court," Rethink35 board president Adam Greenfield said.

The other side: The I-35 expansion is "designed with the community and for the community," TxDOT executive director Marc Williams said after the lawsuit was filed late last week. "We have carefully followed and even exceeded the environmental and legal requirements to advance this project. We don't believe that the actions of these opponents have merit."

What's next: Construction is scheduled to start by the middle of the year, beginning with the reconstruction of the interstate from Holly Street to Texas 71/Ben White Boulevard.

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