AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Department of Transportation broke ground on its I-35 Capital Express North project. It’s a $606 million project that would add one non-tolled, high-occupancy vehicle lane in each direction along the interstate between SH 45 North and Hwy 290 in north central Austin.

I-35 Capital Express North would also reconstruct six bridges, construct a diverging diamond interchange at Wells Branch Parkway, reconstruct entrance and exit ramps, and create shared-use paths for pedestrians and cyclists.

But not everyone is on board to see the expansion. Rethink 35 protesters were on site doing their best to drown out the speakers at the groundbreaking presentation. Rethink35 is pushing for a study of alternatives, including rerouting non-local traffic and completely replacing the highway with a boulevard.

That’s something TxDOT Austin District Engineer, Tucker Ferguson said is not a realistic option, “The projects we put together for Capital Express North, South and Central are all responsive to the growth in our region. I-35 carries approximately 200,000 vehicles in various locations today. And with the population of our region expected to double in the next 20 to 25 years, we are planning for the future. And there’s going to be continued vehicle growth, but we are incorporating many of the features that some of the community alternative concepts have come to us with the widened bridges and the bicycle-pedestrian accommodations, and all of that can all work together with the highway expansion.”

Though SH 130 is an official alternate route that TxDOT recommends, Ferguson says 82% of traffic through I-35 in Downtown Austin is local traffic.

I-35 Capital Express North is expected to be completed in late 2028.

It’s part of a massive undertaking TxDOT is embarking upon with the I-35 Capital Express Project in North, Central and South Austin, “I-35 has not been expanded since the mid-1970s, so the demand is already here, it’s already the number three most congested roadway in the state and much of that demand is bleeding over in the city street networks which were not designed or have the capacity to handle that. with the increase in population, and residential and business and commercial and retail growth in our region. that’s only going to continue to exacerbate that,” said Ferguson.

TxDOT broke ground on the I-35 Capital Express South Project in November 2022, which entails adding two non-tolled HOV lanes, a bypass at William Cannon Dr and Stassney Ln and other new bridges to improve east-west traffic between SH 45 Southwest and Ben White Blvd. That portion is costing about $550 million and is expected to be done also in late 2028.

TxDOT is expected to make a recommendation and provide final renderings of improvements to the Central portion of the project this August. Their recommendations will be based on an environmental study and public input.

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