Mar 13, 2024 - News

Austin's I-35 expansion construction timeline sharpens

Illustration of a path ricocheting between traffic barriers.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The timeline of the state's multibillion-dollar I-35 overhaul is coming into focus, and Austin commuters may want to reacquaint themselves with a map of the city as they try to ferret out shortcuts.

Why it matters: The misery of moving north and south at rush hour through Austin's chief arteries is about to get a lot worse.

What's happening: The Texas Department of Transportation has moved past the public input and design phase and is acquiring right of way, potentially displacing businesses and people from more than 140 properties.

Zoom in: The $4.5 billion, 8-mile central piece of the project, the most costly and controversial, includes dismantling the existing I-35 upper decks north of Manor Road.

  • Adding two non-tolled high-occupancy lanes in each direction from U.S. 290 East to Ben White Boulevard, for a total of at least 15 lanes — though there are more when frontage roads are folded in.
  • Sinking lanes beneath ground level from East Oltorf Street to East Riverside Drive and from East Cesar Chavez Street to Airport Boulevard.

The timeline: Construction is expected to start later this year and last through 2032 in the following phases:

  • 2024-26 – East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard bridge
  • 2024-27 – Drainage tunnel under I-35 and East Cesar Chavez Street
  • 2024-31 – Lady Bird Lake (Holly Street to East Ben White Boulevard)
  • 2025-28 – CapMetro Red Line bridges (Airport Boulevard and East Fourth Street)
  • 2026-31 – University (U.S. 290 East to East Martin Luther King Boulevard)
  • 2026-32 – Downtown (East Martin Luther King Boulevard to Holly Street)

Catch up quick: Despite local opposition to the massive expansion project, short of a court order it appears likely to go forward.

  • In late February Rethink35, a nonprofit opposed to the project, refiled a federal civil rights administrative complaint with the signatories of three declared mayoral candidates and more than 30 organizations and neighborhood associations.
  • The complaint, which argues the project is discriminatory, seeks to have TxDOT re-draw its project proposal under the supervision of the Federal Highway Administration.

What they're saying: "I-35 has divided Austin, and displaced and harmed people of color since it was built. TxDOT efforts to expand I-35 will worsen that division, displacement and harm," Chris Harris of the Austin Justice Coalition said in a statement.

The other side: The I-35 expansion is "designed with the community and for the community," TxDOT executive director Marc Williams said in January.

  • State officials have said the project is necessary to accommodate the region's booming population, improve emergency response times and ease traffic congestion.

The latest: Austin officials announced Monday the city was awarded $105.2 million by the federal government to build large decks on portions of I-35 through central Austin.

The bottom line: Start building up a library of podcasts … you're going to need them.

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