AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin has been working with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for years to make changes to the state’s Interstate 35 Capital Express Central project.
But as a major funding deadline looms, Council Member Vanessa Fuentes hinted at the question during a mobility committee meeting Thursday: How is the City going to pay for it?
The City of Austin needs to fork over roughly $730 million dollars to TxDOT if it wants all of the “caps and stitches” it worked into TxDOT’s central expansion plan. That money doesn’t include what’s built on top of those green spaces, TxDOT said.
As of Friday, a spokesperson for the City of Austin said there are no funds secured, though they said they are “continuing to discuss all options available with TxDOT including funding deadlines” and that it’s continuing to work with its finance department to locate funding options.
“Austin Transportation and Public Works Department just applied for $105M from the USDOT for a Reconnecting Communities grant, and will seek other grant opportunities in the future for caps. Federal grants are competitive in nature and not guaranteed,” an Austin spokesperson said. You can read more about that grant application here.
The deadline for TxDOT to receive all of those funds: December 2024.
“We’re talking about asking us to identify $730 million within…15 months?” Fuentes said Thursday. “It is going to be really challenging for us.”
“When you look back, that number was identified back in August of 2021…we’ve been communicating that for quite a long time and that’s the stance we have,” responded Heather Ashley-Nguyen, transportation planning and development director at TxDOT.
Tom Wald, executive director of Red Line Parkway Initiative and a former Austin City Council candidate, said TxDOT has made accommodations to many of the initiative’s requested changes, but showed up to Thursday’s mobility meeting to express concerns about the dollar amount the City of Austin is on the hook for.
“The I-35 Capital Expansion project does not include ‘caps’ or ‘stitches’ and I think people in the public should be clear on that. The City and other sources have to come up with that money,” Wald said.
Wald believes those community-requested “caps and stitches” should be a part of the more than $4 billion project.
“So we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that perhaps will be taken away from other needs that the City has such as housing the homeless or keeping our pools open, other transportation needs for walking or biking when really that money from the start should have been coming out of the project,” Wald said.
TxDOT leaders were firm Thursday on when Austin needed to hand over the funding, saying by November a design firm will be picked out, and after that, the state has to move forward with funded portions of the project.
“By next summer, they’re going to be nearing 30% design and they’re going to need to know what to design,” said Ashley-Nguyen.