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Groups file lawsuit against TxDOT over Austin-area I-35 expansion project

TexPIRG, Environment Texas and Rethink35 allege TxDOT is violating the law by splitting the project into separate parts to avoid environmental review.

AUSTIN, Texas — Several groups have filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in opposition to its plan to expand Interstate 35 in the Austin area.

Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Environment Texas and the Rethink35 campaign filed the lawsuit on Sunday, June 26, challenging the nearly $5 billion project to expand 8 miles of I-35 through downtown to 20 lanes.

The lawsuit alleges that by splitting its overall I-35 expansion project into three sub-projects – the I-35 Capital Express North (SH-45 N to US-290 E), South (SH-71/Ben White Blvd to SH-45 SE), and Central (US-290 E to SH-71/Ben White Blvd) projects – TxDOT is falsely claiming that these three stretches of I-35 are “independent utilities” to avoid the more rigorous, legally required environmental review and public engagement of a single larger project.

“By splitting its I-35 project into separate parts, TxDOT is clearly violating the law,” said TexPIRG environment campaigns director Matt Casale. “For such a major highway project, TxDOT should be undertaking the most rigorous environmental review process, as well as giving the public much more opportunity to meaningfully participate in the conversation.”

RELATED: TxDOT shares updates to I-35 expansion plans with additional safety, mobility features

Rethink35 is challenging the very basis of the proposed expansion.

“Countless examples, including the notorious Katy Freeway expansion in Houston, have shown that widening highways worsens congestion by encouraging more driving,” said Adam Greenfield, Rethink35’s executive director. “The public has a right to consider options for I-35 that will actually work, including alternatives to driving, not just expansion. This is also a major equity issue: Widening freeways worsens serious and fatal traffic crashes, air pollution, noise and carbon emissions, all of which disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.”

TxDOT told KVUE it had "no comment" on the lawsuit.

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