AUSTIN (KXAN) — The section of Interstate 35 that goes by downtown Austin is the second-most congested highway in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. The agency plans to expand the interstate, but a grassroots Austin organization wants to see a different direction.

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“This expansion, as TxDOT is planning it, shouldn’t go forward,” said Sean Haney, ReThink35’s director of communications. “At this point, we’re really advocating for choice, that the community should have a choice in what I-35 looks like and how it’s built.”

ReThink35’s proposal, as Haney presents it, is to replace the freeway with a boulevard and reroute traffic through highway 130.

“Whether our idea or some other community proposal, we think that TXDOT should have to study all of those thoroughly and present them as alternative options instead of ramming through a plan to expand the interstate up to 20 lanes,” Haney said.

To help his group’s message reach a larger audience, Haney took to TikTok in a video that has reached 202,000 views.

“So, the video is a lot of hyperbole. It’s not based on any real events, as a lot of people seem to think in the comments,” Haney said. “But the fact that so much is based around having to drive in a car to do silly things, such as buying groceries, or even meeting some friends for drinks. For people in Austin, so much time is spent sitting in traffic and driving from one place to the other.”

Texas DOT responds

The Texas Department of Transportation has different expectations, calling ReThink35’s proposal “not feasible” and that driver demand would “overwhelm a boulevard through downtown Austin.” According to TXDOT, I-35 averages 200,000 vehicles per day and more than 80% of trips begin or end in downtown Austin.

“Alternate routes around the city would not be realistic.  Removing I-35 and converting it to a boulevard would put between 160,000 and 200,00 vehicles a day on a roadway with multiple traffic signals and would push excess traffic onto the adjacent city street network,” said Bradley Wheelis, a TxDOT public information officer. “Austin’s streets are not designed to carry that volume of traffic, and the result would be unthinkable traffic and safety conflicts with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other users of the city street grid.”

However, Wheelis notes that one alternate plan under evaluation is to use a “boulevard-style configuration” on I-35 frontage roads near downtown. The current I-35 expansion would add two HOV lanes on the northbound and southbound sides, additional “intersection bypass lanes” (those u-turn lanes), remove upper decks and add more pedestrian and bicycle bridges.

Other upcoming road expansions include the Oak Hill Parkway, FM 973 and FM 812.