- TxDot has revealed and improved its plans for I-35 expansion through the heart of downtown Austin.
- While I-35 does need fixing, TxDot’s plans are not the best route for it to take.
- By adopting TxDot’s plans, we would be forgoing a much prettier, more unified city.
I have written multiple times in this blog about the I-35 expansion. But I think that is important. For one, it’s a huge project that is going to have a gigantic effect on the future of our city. And for two, the current plans are not great. They just do not provide what Austin really needs. Nor do they add to the aesthetics, tax base, etc. It will be a real shame if the current plans are the final version of I-35. So lets talk about what is planned.
What is the Current Expansion Plan?
Driving on I-35 in Austin stinks. I think we can all agree on that. It rarely matters what day or what time of day you are on it – there is heavy traffic. To allegedly fix those problems, TxDot has come up with an expansion plan. The basic highlights of that plan are the following:
- Two additional lanes in each direction that are reserved for vehicles with two or more passengers;
- The current upper levels of the expressway will be torn down;
- The main lanes will be lowered from Oltorf Street to Airport Boulevard;
- An elevated bicycle and pedestrian bridge at 15th Street; and
- “Boulevard-style segments” running through downtown with pedestrian and cyclist path improvements.
To do this, TxDot needs to acquire a significant amount of land along the expressway. As a result, many homes and businesses will be displaced by the expansion. TxDot has begun sending out eminent domain letters to property owners.*
The Problems with TxDot’s Expansion Plans
So why am I complaining about the current expansion plans? I already wrote that I-35 is a mess through Austin. And it clearly needs improvement. But even still, TxDot’s plan has a number of issues. This includes:
- Lack of a cap on top of the new road: This is the biggest issue. It just makes no sense not to cap the highway through Austin – as we have discussed in this blog previously. A cap would help to reduce noise and pollution, and it would also create new public space and increase the property tax base. It is a no brainer.
- Studies have shown that expanding roads does not actually lessen traffic. In fact, it often leads to more traffic. This is because when you build a new road, it induces more people to drive. If the point is to reduce the congestion on I-35, why are we following a plan that will not accomplish that goal?
- The expansion of I-35 will displace hundreds of residents and businesses. This will have a devastating impact on the communities that are affected. For example, we know the expansion will force out a Spanish immersion day care.
- It will not solve the divide between east and west Austin. The roots of I-35 and the division between east and west Austin are ugly and racist. Uniting our community by – at the minimum – capping the road and bringing the two sides together should be a focus of the expansion plans.
There are many (including Rethink35 – an advocacy group) that think all of this could be solved by moving I-35. Its plan would turn the current I-35 into a boulevard and move I-35 to SH-130. This would, obviously, solve the biggest issues that having I-35 cut through the heart of downtown causes. And it would send much of that traffic to SH-130. It is an ideal solution. I wish we all could get behind that ideal.
But that does not appear to be in the cards. As a result, it is essential to push back on the current plans put forward by TxDot. As it is currently envisioned, the expansion will likely increase traffic and displace lots of residents and businesses. While forgoing the unification of the City and increased the available space for housing and businesses. It just does not make sense.
* If you are a property owner and have received one of these eminent domain letters, you have rights. Please feel free to contact us to discuss what those rights are.