Downtown Austin Alliance wants to make sure all voices are heard for I-35 changes

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Downtown Austin Alliance wants to make sure the Texas Department of Transportation hears from everyone about proposed changes to Interstate 35 through the city.

“Our Future 35,” a coalition of community advocates, businesses, neighborhood leaders, institutions and organizations, has banded together to help draft a letter to TxDOT that “prioritizes the best outcomes for Austin and its communities of color” within the scope of the I-35 makeover.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform the highway from what has been a barrier into a community asset,” the coalition’s website says. “After years in the making, this project is at a pivotal milestone.”

The letter on the coalition’s website is editable for those who want to focus on certain outcomes, but the five outcomes the coalition addresses in the full draft are:

  • TxDOT must address the racial and economic inequality that started nearly 100 years ago
  • They want to prioritize safety and connectivity
  • They want TxDOT to work with the community on the project’s design
  • Reduce the carbon footprint of the project
  • TxDOT should provide a minimum of 90 days of public comment

Casey Burack, the Downtown Austin Alliance’s general counsel and vice president of government affairs, said the construction of I-35 in the 1950s created a wall between downtown and east Austin, amplifying a problem with the city’s 1928 master plan.

“It really disrupted a lot of the community life for those folks who were already living in the urban core,” Burack said, “and this kind of sealed that segregationist policy by building this large highway along East Avenue and essentially creating what is now a wall.”

Burack said giving the public enough time to give its feedback is paramount, and TxDOT needs to make sure they give the full 90 days and just don’t go through the motions.

“It’s really important that this public engagement process is not to just check a box,” Burack said.

People have until Dec. 31 to provide feedback to TxDOT about the proposed changes.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute named the stretch of I-35 through downtown Austin the most congested freeway in Texas after releasing findings of a study earlier in December.

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