AUSTIN (KXAN) — With the Texas Department of Transportation poised to receive a final verdict from the federal government on its Interstate 35 expansion proposal this month, some Austin City Council members still have reservations about the project.
Council members Zohaib “Zo” Qadri, José “Chito” Vela and Ryan Alter shared a joint statement on Austin City Council’s public message board Monday. In it, the three acknowledged their approval of new highway capping opportunities incorporated into the project that could add greenspace and affordable housing to the corridor.
“We are pleased that TxDOT has modified their plans to deepen the highway between Dean Keeton and 45th Street, creating the opportunity for a 7.5 acre cap between 38th ½ Street and Airport,” the message read in part. “This will create new opportunities for greenspace and affordable housing, and minimize the negative impact of the highway on the surrounding neighbors.”
However, the trio outlined several environmental-related concerns they still had with the project. Among them, the three wanted to see the following improvements made to TxDOT’s project plan:
- Establish a commitment of parkland swap and an operations and maintenance agreement with the Trail Conservancy and City of Austin
- Commit to treating stormwater runoff from the drainage outfall near U.S. Highway 183 and Cesar Chavez Street
- Upgrade intersections designs with pedestrians and cyclists in mind, with a specific focus requested on the Riverside Drive, Airport Boulevard and 51st Street intersections
- Incorporate pedestrian and cyclist crossings between Airport Boulevard and 51st Street, as well as between Riverside Drive and State Highway 71
- Adjust the project’s air quality analysis “based on projected non-attainment status for particulate matter, and commit to mitigation that includes treating emissions via caps”
- Ensure all the corridor’s surface level elements — including its frontage roads, bridges, shared-use paths and crossings — are compliant with the City of Austin’s Transportation Criteria Manual as well as with the National Association of City Transportation Officials standards
We have serious reservations that these can be accomplished by the August deadline to release the Final Environmental Impact Statement and the Record of Decision. Such a complex project requires multiple iterations of design and public feedback to ensure that every last dollar of the $4.5 billion in taxpayer money is invested in the best possible outcome for the people of Austin. We continue to urge TxDOT to provide meaningful engagement opportunities with residents, incorporate feedback, and give the City adequate time to effectively coordinate on all aspects of this once-in-a-generation infrastructure project.Austin City Council members Zohaib “Zo” Qadri, José “Chito” Vela and Ryan Alter
The message concluded with the three’s acknowledgment of I-35’s need to be “modernized and improved,” but challenged the idea the highway needed to be expanded to see those improvements come to fruition. They added the highway’s expansions, even with improvements made by TxDOT, could still impact the city’s climate equity, sustainability and Vision Zero traffic safety initiatives.
“As this plan moves forward, we must double down on our efforts to improve mobility, decrease carbon emissions, and bridge the nearly century-long divide this highway has represented in our community,” the message said.
Linked in the trio’s message was a letter Mayor Kirk Watson sent several legislators regarding progress on the project. Following TxDOT’s public hearing period earlier this year, Watson wrote the state agency had agreed to several project updates:
- Additional capping possibilities at Hancock or Cherrywood
- Direct connections for buses at the Tech Ridge Park and Ride
- Bat boxes on the new bridge slated to span over Lady Bird Lake
- Water quality treatment at the Cesar Chavez outfall
- Commitment to building the boardwalk along Lady Bird Lake in front of the Hyatt, to the cost of approximately $25 million
- Addition of sound walls for the City of Austin community garden
In an update delivered to the Austin Downtown Commission earlier this month, TxDOT Mobility35 Project Manager Tommy Abrego said road construction on the project — assuming the federal government improves the plan — is slated to begin in 2026 and will last between six and eight years.