I35project presentsAustin with $4.9Bopportunity
FOR THE NEXT 50 YEARS The last time I-35 was signicantly overhauled was in 1974. The Texas Department of Transportation, community advocates and local political leaders all say the upcoming project to remake the central portion of the road between SH 71 and Hwy. 290 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Austin to have a say in the project.
BY JACK FLAGLER
highway,” TxDOT Program Manager Susan Fraser said. Commission Chair J. Bruce Bugg vowed in February 2020 the state would go “no wider and no higher” with this project, instead opting to dig deeper to add capacity. But many transportation advocates disagree with the decision to expand the number of lanes on I-35—pointing to research showing added lanes do not solve capacity issues. Heyden Black Walker is an architect, urban planner and one of the creators of the Reconnect Austin plan, a proposal to bury the main lanes of I-35 from Lady Bird Lake to Airport Boulevard. Black Walker said even with the restrictions, there are still ways for TxDOT sta and engineers to create a project that works. “Really, all they can do is build a highway, which is the wrong choice. But if you’re going to build a highway, there are choices they can make that would be a better highway,” she said. City and community leaders are pushing for a design that would allow local entities to fund and build solutions on top of the highway to add features that benet residents, such as crossings or space on the right of way for aordable housing or community event spaces. Recent events in Houston show those local governments may have more tools at their disposal to advocate for themselves. Harris County sued TxDOT in federal court March 11, arguing its planned $7 billion overhaul of I-45 that would displace more than 900 residents and 300 businesses violated federal law. At the same time, the Federal Highway Administration wrote a letter asking TxDOT to pause the I-45 project.
Work is set to begin in 2025 on the rst major
reconstruction of I-35 through downtown Austin since the 1970s. The Texas Department of Transportation hopes to improve safety on one of its most dangerous stretches of highway and relieve congestion at a choke point that is the worst in the state, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Final design decisions from TxDOT on the $4.9 billion project likely will not come until 2022, but many city leaders and community members say the project as it stands does not meet Austin’s goals. Linda Guerrero, who grew up in Austin and has been involved in local civic issues for decades, co-chairs a working group representing more than 50 city organizations. She said she would like to see TxDOT acknowledge a “history of woundedness” in the community. “They are looking at a road. And we are looking at history,” Guerrero said. TxDOT is still in the process of making decisions, which include the elevation of highway lanes and the placement of ramps and frontage roads. However, TxDOT is working from a starting point handed down from political leaders and the Texas Transportation Commission. TxDOT ocials say part of their task is to add capacity, which will come in the form of two high-occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes in each direction for public transit, carpools, vanpools and emergency vehicles. “The HOV lanes are going to incentivize transit and people carpooling. That’s going to encourage more people to drive together and provide more capacity on the
THE UPPER DECKS
At this point in the project, TxDOT has not made any nal decisions about I-35’s design, but all of its conceptual designs have included the dismantling of the upper decks and lowering of the main lanes below the areas where frontage roads will cross.
JACK FLAGLERCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
Project limits total miles of highway project cost $ 4.9B
TxDOT said it is open to designing the highway project to provide certain access points where public transportation vehicles would be able to enter and exit I-35 in bus- only lanes from cross streets such as A Dean Keeton Street and B Riverside Drive. If this option is feasible, it would be paid for by local entities such as the city of Austin or Capital Metro.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. BLVD.
Estimated construction start
While trac counts have been mostly static on this stretch of I-35, congestion has worsened. Transit researchers say added lanes historically do not solve congestion woes because they eventually ll with trac. TxDOT is proposing to add managed carpool lanes to maximize the number of people moving through the corridor. TRAFFIC SOLUTIONS
Some community proposals call for I-35 to be covered from Lady Bird Lake to Airport Boulevard and repurposed for other uses. A panel of transportation experts from the Urban Land Institute considered that option but also suggested three high-priority areas. A 11th St. to 12th St. B 6th St. to 8th St. C Cesar Chavez St. to 4th St.
ANNUAL TRAFFIC COUNTS: I-35 AT LADY BIRD LAKE
AUSTIN STATS: 1993-2017
Freeway lane-miles growth: +125%
MAP NOT TO SCALE N
SOURCES: TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, TRANSPORTATION FOR AMERICA, URBAN LAND INSTITUTE COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
Growth in trac delay:
LAKE TRAVIS WESTLAKE EDITION • JUNE 2021
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