AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following substantial input from city leaders and community advocates, updated preliminary designs released by the Texas Department of Transportation last week highlighted changes to its $4.9 billion Interstate 35 overhaul project.

The highway expansion proposal was met with concern from community members who said extending the highway would further divide eastern Austin from the city’s downtown core, as well as impact residential and commercial infrastructure near the roadway. In TxDOT’s latest proposal iteration, added features include:

  • Upper decks removal
  • Added caps and stitches above highway
  • Lance Armstrong Bikeway crossing
  • Upgraded bike, pedestrian connections at Lady Bird Lake
  • Reduced frontage road speed limits
  • Added community art, placemaking design elements

Heyden Walker is the co-founder and board of directors chair for Reconnect Austin, a grassroots initiative that re-envisions I-35 enhancements through a community boulevard proposal. Walker noted her appreciation for changes such as the upper decks removal and reduced speed limits but said an expanded roadway will only contribute to Austin’s congestion problems.

“When you widen highways, when you add lanes, you rarely solve congestion,” she said. “But what you do do is you provide additional lanes, and so more people will choose to drive, and it’s called induced demand.”

Under Reconnect Austin’s goals for I-35, she advocated for a concentration on non-singular vehicle transit options, including bus services and enhanced bike and pedestrian accessways. With the city of Austin’s own 2039 goal for 50% of residents to use multi-modal transit options, paired with its climate change efforts, she said this would better advance those two initiatives.

While she said she still hopes to see changes made to its expansion efforts, Walker commended both the city and TxDOT’s efforts to incorporate public feedback into its revised proposals. She said she hopes more people will continue sharing their thoughts on the preliminary plans at an upcoming community open house.

“I think that partnership is is really important, and I think it’s making a big difference,” she said. “And we’re really happy to see that happening.”

TxDOT will present its latest changes during a community engagement meeting on Jan. 25 from 6-8 p.m. The hybrid event will be held in-person at the Austin Central Library, as well as on Zoom here.