TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County commissioners approved Tuesday submitting a new letter to the Texas Department of Transportation outlining requests and concerns with the Interstate 35 Capital Express Central project.
TxDOT’s I-35 expansion near downtown Austin is a $4.5 billion, eight-mile project expected to begin construction as early as mid-2024. In late August, TxDOT officials released its final environmental impact statement and record of decision, a required process through the National Environmental Policy Act for any projects incorporating federal dollars or participation.
Commissioners first penned a letter in February outlining a slew of environmental and socio-cultural the project could have on residents and neighborhoods dwelling along the I-35 corridor. Within TxDOT’s project, officials noted several of the impacted neighborhoods and displaced properties have a higher concentration of lower-income, non-white and non-native English speaking residents.
“There is a need and desire to preserve the character, community, and facilities in east Austin and to ensure the historically low-income and minority community residents remain,” TxDOT officials wrote in the final EIS.
In the commissioners’ letter, county elected officials pointed to the fact no publicly elected officials — save for those appointed to serve on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s transportation policy board — were able to take a public vote on this project. CAMPO’s vote approving the advancement of the project was “taken long before the [final environmental impact statement and record of decision] were issued and many significant changes have been proposed since that vote,” commissioners wrote.
Travis County leadership had requested in February specific environmental impact analyses related to particulate matter caused by the duration of the project — both its construction phase and its operations — be studied and incorporated into the final EIS. Commissioners wrote in their letter those analyses were not completed.
“While we appreciate the work of TxDOT on this project, the Travis County Commissioners Court believes that TxDOT’s responses in the FEIS to previously stated concerns do not substantially address them.”
The letter requested “all actions taken regarding this project” be down in a “fully transparent” manner and held at CAMPO’s public transportation policy board meeting. The letter also called for a “timely briefing” from TxDOT to the court on both the project and issues outlined in the letter.
“This is a massive project that will have huge impacts on our region for a decade and more,” said Commissioner Brigid Shea, who sponsored the item.
Commissioner Jeff Travillion, who co-sponsored the letter, added in part that “the last time urban renewal happened, we called it urban removal.” He stressed the critical importance of Austin not regressing back toward the segregationist mentalities behind I-35’s original creation and its disproportionate impact on east Austin communities.
In a statement, a TxDOT spokesperson said the state agency “appreciates the long working relationship with the county,” adding all feedback collected on the project has been reviewed and incorporated when possible.
“TxDOT appreciates the long working relationship with the county. Throughout the environmental and preliminary design process, all feedback from county commissioners, staff, the public and other stakeholders was considered and incorporated where possible, and is included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision. We continue to address comments during final design.”Texas Department of Transportation spokesperson