Axios Austin

Newsletter branding image

It's Wednesday.

☁️ Today's weather: Slight chance of morning drizzle, then mostly cloudy, with a high of 80.

Situational awareness: As part of a larger protest of U.S. military support for Israel, more than 8o bands and panelists have now canceled appearances at South by Southwest over the U.S. Army's sponsorship of the event.

Today's newsletter is 887 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Time to plan your new commute

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.

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

  • 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.
  • And 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.

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.

2. Prison population's growth

Change in prison populations, 2021 to 2022
Explore the interactive map. Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Texas' prison population grew 4.4% between 2021 and 2022, Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report from the latest justice department data.

  • Meanwhile, it fell nearly 20% between the peak year of 2010 and 2022.

Why it matters: Prison numbers are an indicator of how our society approaches criminal justice.

  • Plus, in Texas, where prisons are generally in rural areas and incarcerated people are often from urban ones, the prison population has implications for Census counting and political clout.
Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

By the numbers: 139,631 people were in state or federal prisons in Texas in 2022, per the DOJ's data, compared to 173,649 in the peak year of 2010.

The big picture: The U.S. prison population rose 2.1% between 2021 and 2022, marking "the first increase in the combined state and federal prison population in almost a decade," a recent DOJ report found.

Dive deeper

3. 🤠 The Roundup: Wrangling the news

A wall composed of CarbonX, a new material from Icon. Photo: Courtesy of Icon

🏠 Austin-based 3D-printed-home company Icon unveiled a new form of building material. (Austin American-Statesman)

🏳️‍🌈 The faculty at St. Edward's University could take a no-confidence vote of the university president following the removal of an LGBTQ pride flag from campus property. (CBS Austin)

🐣 Austin baby food startup Serenity Kids has landed a $52 million investment from a Boston private equity firm. (Austin Inno)

4. SXSW Axios House dispatch

Guests at Axios House's Expert Voices dinner. Photo: Cori Baker/Axios

👋 Asher here.

This week I had the pleasure of co-moderating (with Axios' Hope King) an Expert Voices dinner discussion at Axios House at South by Southwest.

The topic: Governments and corporations are facing a moment of reckoning to prioritize sustainability while supporting the needs of growing populations.

  • We convened leaders who are advancing sustainability efforts to talk about their approaches to reducing waste and promoting a circular economy for a more sustainable future.

Between the lines: Among Texas' Republican leadership, the term "ESG" — environmental-social-corporate governance — has become something of a dirty word, with the state comptroller barring certain banks and other firms who have been deemed insufficiently supportive of energy firms from doing business with the state.

What they're saying: "This ESG taboo nomenclature is really a U.S. thing," said Haley Lowry, the global director of sustainability for Dow. "In the rest of the world, we haven't seen the pushback in the U.S., where it's frankly just been politicized."

  • The rhetoric around ESG "hasn't changed anything we do as a company, hasn't changed the investment strategy we have to build de-carbonization and our circularity efforts. And frankly we call all that sustainability."

The bottom line: Climate change is "on the docket in the C-suite of every business we now work with," said Tim Weiss, the Colorado-based CEO of Optera, a company that helps big-box retailers track the carbon footprint of their products.

  • "I don't have a lot of faith in consumer behavior overall, because you have to convince people to spend money on something that are morality questions, values questions. And typically people don't have a great track record there."

More expert voices

Sponsored event listings

Stay booked and busy

The Two-Parent Privilege with Melissa Kearney at Littlefield Home at UT on March 18: This event aims to present its audience with evidence of the effects of family structure on childhood outcomes and to explore public policies to strengthen the potential for two-parent households while making the consequences of single-parent households less onerous.

Hosting an event? Email [email protected].

5. SXSW panel picker

Tekedra Mawakana, co-chief executive officer of Waymo, in 2022. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Here's what's in store for day six.

🚗 Learn about Waymo's autonomous future in Austin at a fireside conversation between Waymo's co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana and Mostly Human's Laurie Segall. 10-11am at Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon H.

🏀 Dive into NBA legend Dwyane Wade's business impact off the court in a conversation between Wade and Inc. Business Media's Tom Foster. 11:30am at the Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D.

🧠 Catch a session on Amazon's decision to invest in artificial general intelligence between Axios' Ryan Heath and Amazon's Vishal Sharma. 11:30am at Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon H.

Two more picks

Thanks to Chloe Gonzales for editing and Kate Sommers-Dawes and Yasmeen Altaji for copy editing this newsletter.

👂 Asher is stopping by the free shows at South by San José today.

🍕 Nicole is grabbing pizza at tonight's Favorite Pizza Party.