Toll road politics shut the door on I-35 overhaul plan

Austin

More than half a year after TxDOT unveiled a plan to overhaul the Interstate 35 corridor through downtown Austin, Central Texas lawmakers haven’t heard an update.

Politics over toll roads closed the door on the plan. 

Remember that $8 billion Capital Express plan to overhaul I-35 with four managed toll lanes?

The one where TxDOT would upgrade the main roads with new voter-approved money, then use federal loans and gas taxes to pay for the toll lanes? It’s on hold, says State Rep. Celia Israel, D- Austin.

“You can’t just put your hands in your pockets and act like you’re doing stuff because you’re not doing stuff,” said Rep. Israel.

A month after TxDOT rolled out the plan, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, who appoint TxDOT commissioners, said no to any long-term plans with new toll roads.

They got backing from the primary election, where nine out of 10 Republicans said they wanted voter approval of any new toll road.

But Rep. Israel says that’s leaving Central Texas stuck on the street.

“We had plans, we had a vision, we wanted to do something. And because it was perceived as controversial or political. It got cut off at the highest levels of TxDOT,” said Rep. Israel.

Bobby Jenkins from ABC Home and Commercial services says we need to look at toll lanes.

“Let’s take the politics out. Let’s think about what are all the possibilities,” said Jenkins.

Speaking on behalf of Austin business interests, he told state lawmakers in the House Transportation Committee Wednesday that doing nothing will have economic consequences.

“Business looking to relocate to Austin are now kind of going… wait a minute. What are you doing about your congestion? What are you doing about infrastructure?” Jenkins told KXAN.

Requests for comment from the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices have not yet been returned.

According to Diann Hodges from the Austin TxDOT office, they “are still looking into ways to improve the I-35 corridor. What will be included in that is still being determined.”

The agency has seven active construction projects along the I-35 corridor right now. Those can be found at www.my35construction.org.

TxDOT does plan on spending $2 billion over their next 10-year plan on the Austin area, but that won’t be enough.

One study by the Texas Transportation Institute showed that if nothing else is done, by the year 2035, driving from Austin to Round Rock could take up to two hours. 

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