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TxDOT central I-35 expansion project puts businesses at risk of displacement, loss of 625 jobs

The project draft states 107 businesses, residences and properties are marked for potential displacements.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Department of Transportation released the environmental impact statement (EIS) draft for its proposed Interstate 35 Capital Express Central project.

The draft provides Central Texans their first look at how many residences and businesses could be impacted by the expansion, with some at risk for displacement.

Rodney Falkquay, owner of BL Barbershop, has been in business on Cameron Road off I-35 for nearly two years. He learned of the project Wednesday, confirming to KVUE that he has not heard from TxDOT.

"This area right here is a high-traffic-volume area and, you know, people coming in and out of town passing through," Falkquay said. "So, it’s a great opportunity for business."

The 8-mile project runs along I-35 from US 290 East to State Highway 71 and Ben White Boulevard.

According to TxDOT's draft, there are three proposals for the project. The proposals are two that include expanding: a Build-Alternative 2 and Modified-Build Alternative 3 design. The third proposal is to forego the project altogether.

Officials said the Modified-Build Alternative 3 design is preferred.

Modified-Build Alternative 3 proposes to add two non-tolled, high-occupancy-vehicle managed lanes in each direction along I-35 from U.S. 290 East to SH 71/Ben White Boulevard. The project would also lower the I-35 main lanes between Airport Boulevard and Lady Bird Lake, and Riverside Drive and Oltorf Street; remove the upper decks; widen east-west cross-street bridges; add boulevard-style segments through downtown; and enhance pedestrian and bicycle paths.

In a press release, TxDOT stated the preferred design will improve mobility along the corridor for bicyclists and pedestrians by adding more than 16 miles of new shared-use paths; constructing 13 widened east-west crossings with 30 feet on each side for bicycle and pedestrian paths and safety buffers; reconstructing 17 bridges or cross-streets; and constructing bicycle and pedestrian-only bridges throughout the corridor.

Construction on the selected proposal would cost approximately $4.5 billion. This is slightly more expensive than Build-Alternative 2’s $4.45 billion.

Under Modified-Build Alternative 3, the draft states 107 businesses, residences and properties are marked for potential displacements. This includes losing 625 jobs.

“People really need their jobs. They really need things in this area," Falkquay said. "I do understand 35 needing to be expanded, but if it’s going to affect the community to that degree, then I think they should rethink on some of the plans that they’re doing.”

Rethink 35, an advocacy group against interstate expansion, said there are ways to improve I-35 without growing it. Adam Greenfield, executive director of Rethink 35, said the impact of this project will be "profound."

"The correct way to accommodate population growth in Central Texas is to provide congestion-free alternatives such as busses, trains, protective bike lanes and better pedestrian facilities," Greenfield said.

The group claims that, historically, highway expansion does more harm than good, referencing the Katy Freeway in Houston.

"The Texas Department of Transportation is alleging that widening I-35 will help with traffic congestion," Greenfield said. "We know from 100 years of experience that when you widen highways, it makes traffic worse because more people drive."

TxDOT officials said department members are working to contact businesses at risk of displacement to assist in the acquisition process. Falkquay said he has not heard anything yet.

In a statement to KVUE, TxDOT said:

"TxDOT is proposing to offer relocation assistance, beyond what is required by regulations, for displacement of community facilities that serve low-income, minority populations, or otherwise underserved communities. This would include small businesses, healthcare facilities and daycare facilities that serve those populations.

"TxDOT will be maintaining three lanes of traffic during construction of I-35. The department has also been coordinating with larger health care facilities, hospitals, and adjacent landowners to minimize impacts and maintain access through construction."

According to the EIS draft, the majority of project displacements are concentrated in the Upper Boggy Creek, North Loop, Windsor Park and Hancock neighborhoods. Other impacted regions include the loss of a couple downtown businesses, displacement of some auto sales and gas stations near East Cesar Chavez and the loss of Jimmy’s Barbershop in South River City.

Compared to the Build-Alternative 2 proposal, the Modified-Build Alternative 3 proposal includes fewer properties at risk of displacement.

TxDOT will host an in-person and virtual public hearing on the draft proposal on Feb. 9. Residents can provide feedback on the project through March 7.

To read the full Environmental Impact Statement draft, click here.

Boomtown is KVUE's series covering the explosive growth in Central Texas. For more Boomtown stories, head to KVUE.com/Boomtown.

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