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Austinites concerned I-35 project could worsen mobility for minorities

Advocates worry the expansion plan would make traffic worse, and make it even harder for minorities to get access to the city.

AUSTIN, Texas — Tiffany Washington is a northeast Austinite with a passion for farming. Her farm is on the east side of Interstate 35, cut off from the rest of Austin. 

"There isn't enough access to land in the city of Austin for Black farmers to grow food, for East Austin,” said Washington. 

TxDOT's I-35 expansion project would remove the existing upper decks, lower the roadway and add two lanes in each direction from US 290 east to State Highway 71/Ben White Boulevard. The City of Austin says this could improve the access minorities have into the rest of the city. 

"We see that you get poorer resources in East Austin. You see that a lot of people who work hard or are from there are either losing opportunities [or] have no opportunities,” said Washington. 

Community advocate Chivas Watson worries that this plan would make traffic worse, and make it even harder for minorities to get access to the city.

"I always hold I-35 to be a separator, to be a pillar of segregation,” said Watson.

An executive director with advocacy group Rethink 35, Adam Greenfield said the better path is to route traffic around town, not through it. 

"You don't need an interstate going through town, and you can reclaim that land for housing, local businesses and sustainable-space-efficient transportation,” Greenfield said. 

Part of the I-35 project, called Capital Express South in Travis County, broke ground on Nov. 15. This project is set to cost $548 million and connect SH 71/Ben White Boulevard to State Highway 45 Southeast by adding two high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) managed lanes on either side of I-35. 

This project will also add a southbound I-35 intersection bypass at Stassney Lane and William Cannon Drive, improve the east and west connections, and add about 13 miles of new paths throughout the corridor.

The project is estimated to start in 2025 with an almost $5 billion price tag. But for Washington, it's not about the roads – it's about having a fair shot. 

"I don't think we should have to make farming for Black people be so difficult," she said.


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