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Travis County commissioners, Central Texans push for I-35 project changes

After public testimony, commissioners laid out a long list of safety and environmental changes they hope TxDOT will consider.

AUSTIN, Texas — During Tuesday's Travis County Commissioners Court meeting, the public called for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to overhaul its Interstate 35 expansion plan as commissioners prepare a letter asking for the same changes. 

TxDOT's I-35 Capital Express Central Project is eight miles long and would include removing the upper decks, lowering the roadways and more.

"Expanding highways doesn't work," one resident giving testimony said. "It encourages more driving."

"I think the current plans for the I-35 expansion are excessive and will increase pollution," another person giving testimony said.

The I-35 Capital Express Central Project could displace more than 100 properties, including homes and businesses.

Commissioners were also concerned that the project would remove the driveway of the historic Palm School, but TxDOT reassured them this project will not impact the driveway. Still, commissioners decided to protect the property by requesting it get added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

Travis County commissioners laid out changes they would like to see made:

  1. It should ensure that I-35 Central is designed and built in a way that does not preclude adding additional connections and additional camping in the future. 
  2. Add more east-west street crossings that work for all users, including cars, bikes and pedestrians.
  3. Include water quality controls to treat and filter runoff from I-35.
  4.  The I-35 Capital Express Central Project should continue to collaborate and prioritize reducing the environmental, traffic and safety impacts of I-35, especially the frontage roads. Frontage roads and east-west crossings should prioritize service to the local street network and should have speed limits and design speeds no higher than the adjacent local street network. 
  5. Minimize the number of properties impacted by eminent domain and provide as much mitigation as possible for the impacted businesses and residents. 
  6. Substantially revise the I-35 Draft Environmental Impact Statement to reduce the burdens of the project placed on residential communities in Travis County, prior to the release of a final EIS and Record of Decision. 
  7. Prioritize safety for all road users, including reasonable strategies specifically aimed at reducing injuries and death to vulnerable road users. 
  8. Conduct a study of existing and future particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) in the I-35 corridor, with monitors placed directly adjacent to the highway and throughout the region.
  9. Ensure that air quality projections in the final EIS are at least within up-to-date PM2.5 attainment levels.
  10. Mitigate future air pollution and study existing and future air pollution in addition to carbon monoxide to mitigate future air pollution.
  11. Encourage TxDOT to look into investing in rail systems between Austin and San Antonio to reduce vehicular traffic.

"TxDOT's view is, 'Well, that's not a big deal, just go find somewhere else to operate your business,'" said Luke Ellis, founding partner of Marrs Ellis & Hodge law firm.

Ellis, an eminent domain lawyer, said he's representing several property owners and businesses who could lose what they worked for because of this project.

He said he often sees TxDOT short-change people displaced by these types of projects. 

"We have seen many instances where TxDOT's offer was nowhere near the just constitutional compensation that was owed to that particular property," he said.

Public comments can be submitted to TxDOT through March 7. More on how to give feedback can be found on the TxDOT website.

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