AUSTIN (KXAN) — At Jimmy’s Barbershop, every razor is hand-picked and each barber is passionate.

“I’m happy to do what I do,” said Donny Rivera, who’s been cutting hair for 25 years.

Donny Rivera said the best part of his job is the smile after a fresh cut. “Makes me feel real wonderful that I did my job,” he said. (KXAN Photo/Tahera Rahman)

“I dropped right out of high school and went straight from barber college straight to a barbershop,” said Rivera, who credits his path and passion for keeping him out of jail.

Jimmy Baltierra, the owner, has been cutting hair for about 10 years and finally opened up his own shop in 2021.

It’s not just about hair at Jimmy’s Barbershop, but about identity for their clients, the majority of whom are from Black and brown communities across Austin.

“Old scissor cuts to Afro trimming to designs, mullets — any haircut you can think of, we’re not afraid of,” Rivera said.

“I’m very committed to my barbers, so I don’t really barber around,” said one client, who’s been seeing Baltierra for eight years.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) identified Jimmy’s as one of eight commercial properties in its I-35 redesign proposal that caters to specific populations that are non-white, Spanish speaking and/or serve lower-income populations or children:

  • CommUnityCare: David Powell Health Center: specializes in treatment of HIV and AIDs, providing services to lower-income populations or people who are uninsured
  • CommUnityCare: Hancock Walk-In Care: provides medical services to general public, lower-income populations or those without medical insurance
  • Pediatric Healthcare: children-centered medical care, located in the Austin Medical Building
  • Dr. Emilio Torres: obstetrician and gynecologist serving children
  • Escuelita del Alma: Spanish immersion preschool comprising two commercial parcels
  • Jimmy’s Barbershop: barber services for Black and African American community members
  • Hector’s Barbershop: Spanish-speaking barbershop
  • The BL Barbershop: barber services for Black and African American community members

The agency’s new impact report, called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, states a total of 107 businesses, homes and vacant properties would be displaced under the modified build alternative three design.

The design would add two non-tolled high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) managed lanes in each direction along I-35 from U.S. 290 East to State Highway 71/Ben White Boulevard.

According to a press release, it would also lower the I-35 main lanes between Airport Boulevard and Lady Bird Lake, and Riverside Drive and Oltorf Street, remove the upper decks, widen east-west cross-street bridges, add boulevard-style segments through downtown and enhance pedestrian and bicycle paths.

On Wednesday, TxDOT released this rendering of what the new segments of I-35 could look like under its proposed design.
On Wednesday, TxDOT released this rendering of what the new segments of I-35 could look like under its proposed design.

According to the report, TxDOT said it wants to pick this design over the other two because there are fewer conflicts with utilities along the route and lower relocation costs.

But it said displaced people and businesses will probably “find it difficult to
relocate in the same neighborhood or general area due to increasing housing and real estate prices.”

Baltierra and Rivera didn’t find out they were in the possible displacement path until KXAN came by to speak with them on Wednesday.

“I feel real disappointed about that,” said Rivera, who had just ordered new business cards. “I wouldn’t know where to start off at. It’s such a good spot, and it’s right off 35. And it’s easy to find us. And I wouldn’t know what to do or where we would restart at.”

The agency said it wants to provide “advanced relocation assistance for selected properties to minimize impacts to underserved communities,” according to the report.

TxDOT said federal rules allow it to offer rental assistance to people, but not to businesses.

To help mitigate displacement for the eight businesses within the environmental justice zone that cater to minority communities, TxDOT said it will offer rental assistance to those businesses, which includes finding a comparable location.

To date, TxDOT said it reached out to three of those: Two CommUnityCare facilities and Escuelita del Alma, a Spanish immersion preschool.

Rivera and Baltierra are still waiting for TxDOT’s call but hope to keep crafting hair and culture in Austin.

“I think it would kind of put a dent in our clients, but hopefully, you know, we got faithful, loyal clients, that’ll stay with us. And no matter where we go, hopefully, they’ll follow,” Rivera said.

In its report, TxDOT said displacements could change as the design progresses.

TxDOT will host an in-person and virtual public hearing on the draft proposal on Feb. 9. The in-person hearing runs from 5-7 p.m., while the virtual version will be available at 5 p.m. Neighbors can weigh in and comment on the project through March 7.

You can read TxDOT’s full Draft Environmental Impact Statement here.