AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a 10-1 vote Thursday, Austin City Council called for adjustments to the Texas Department of Transportation’s I-35 Capital Express Central Project, noting mobility, displacement and environmental concerns with the proposal. Mayor Kirk Watson was the lone dissenting vote on the overall resolution.
The proposed project encompasses an eight-mile stretch along I-35 between U.S. Highway 290 East and State Highway 71 and Ben White Boulevard. The project has proven divisive among community members, with some citing its necessity amid congestion woes while others highlight the disproportionate impact it poses on eastside residents, many of whom come from lower-income backgrounds and belong to communities of color.
Through the approved measure, city officials are requesting the following changes be made to TxDOT’s proposed plan:
- Adding full east-west crossings for cars, bikes and pedestrians every quarter-mile of the project, adding the project boundary “should not have any span between full east-west crossings greater than 1/2 mile”
- Lowering and covering “as much of United States Interstate Highway 35 as possible” through the construction of caps or land above highways that can host green space or other community features. The measure requests the caps be used to “maximize value to the public, including making new land available for development.”
- TxDOT should ensure the design and construction of the project don’t prevent additional caps and east-west crossings from being added in the future
- Calls for TxDOT, the Austin Transportation Department and other city departments to work on reducing the “environmental, traffic, and safety impacts” of the proposed projects, adding frontage roads and east-west crossings should both prioritize service to local streets
- Demands minimizing the number of properties, businesses and residents displaced through eminent domain measures
- Incentivizing 18-wheeler traffic to reroute from I-35 to State Highway 130 due to “congestion, air quality, and road safety” concerns affiliated with them
Additional amendments made by the council Thursday included directing the city manager to submit the resolution to TxDOT as the city’s official public comment on the project. Public comments will be collected on the proposal through March 7.
Additionally, council called for added language that the proposed project would hinder the city’s 2030 Climate Equity Plan goal and that the displacement impacts of the proposed project footprint disproportionately impact lower-income households and communities of color. On those additions, Council Member Mackenzie Kelly voted no.
Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis also requested TxDOT collaborate with ATD and other city officials to enact speed limits and design speeds “no higher than the adjacent local street network.”
She cited concerns about local, neighborhood roads bordering the frontage roads and concerns she had of people exiting the frontage road and continuing at a higher speed through those neighborhoods. Kelly also voted no on this proposed addition.
Council Member José “Chito” Vela sponsored the resolution, with his district split by I-35. Prior to the vote, he commended public speakers and community activists who had spoken out against the project proposal.
“I’m conscious of the power dynamics, let’s say, between the state and the city. It’s going to be a balance,” Vela said. “We’re going to have to work with TxDOT on right of way for Project Connect and numerous other issues. TxDOT controls multiple local streets, but this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We’ve got to get it right.”
In a statement to KXAN, a TxDOT spokesperson said the state agency will continue to work with city officials on the proposed project and design.
“TxDOT worked extensively with the City of Austin during the design process for the I-35 Capital Express North, South and Central projects. Designs for North and South are complete and contracts have been awarded. We continue to receive input from the public and our partners at the city on the Central project,” the spokesperson said.