AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) unveiled changes focused on safety and mobility to the $4.9 billion Interstate 35 expansion project at a community meeting Tuesday.
New updated layouts include changes to the proposed project's elevation, downtown frontage roads and bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.
Specifically, the updated project shifts the northbound frontage road to the west side of I-35 and creates a boulevard on the west side of the interstate through downtown that incorporates the City's desire for a more "city-street" feel to the road. It also lowers I-35 at Airport Boulevard, Holly Street and Woodland Avenue.
The updated concept removes the vehicle barrier from the eastside and could allow access for 14 acres of locally funded community plazas in an effort to reconnect east Austin to the downtown area. The activity plazas provide an opportunity to further enhance bicycle and pedestrian access, east-west connectivity and green space.
With the new concept, caps are proposed from 8th Street to Cesar Chavez Street. Areas between Den Keeton and 15th Street, adjacent to the University of Texas, are also being considered.
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Another modification to the plan is at the Riverside Drive intersection, where a single-point urban interchange is proposed, that would accommodate the Project Connect Blue Line. The modification also calls for the removal of the Woodland Avenue bridge and replacing it with a pedestrian and bicycle crossing.
"So this provides us better mobility and connectivity throughout downtown and Central Austin," Austin's Corridor Program Office Director Mike Trimble said. "We're very encouraged by the fact that TxDOT has already incorporated several of the widened crossings or stitches in their design and funding those as part of the project. They're also enhancing their esthetics program, including improvements like shade, structures, trees, landscaping and public art that will further enhance bike and pedestrian connectivity and enhance the use of the cap."
According to TxDOT, the plan also lowers speed limits on frontage roads by up to 15 mph to 35 mph, which would be in line with other major roads in Austin, like Lamar Boulevard or Congress Avenue.
The updates also include tow managed lanes in each direction to ensure reliable routes for transit, emergency services and carpoolers, per TxDOT.
TxDOT plans to host a community meeting on Jan. 25 to discuss the updated plans. The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. at Austin's Central Library and will be streamed online. Community members will be able to share their input on the proposed project at the meeting.
TxDOT modified the project plans were released after Assistant City Manager Gina Fiandaca and TxDOT Austin District Engineer Tucker Ferguson shared a memo highlighting the new changes earlier this month.
Last year, Fiandaca raised concerns to state transportation leaders in a letter about the project plans, writing that the build options at the time “(did) not sufficiently respond to the needs identified by the City of Austin.”
She highlighted concerns that the plans didn't address safety concerns or improved connections between East and Central Austin.
The Austin City Council in 2021 approved a resolution urging TxDOT to take “positive action” on the City’s comments and directing the city manager’s office to launch an independent public input process on the project.
Meanwhile, the City's Corridor Program Office is continuing to collect community feedback on the cap and stitch project, which will have to be funded using local money. You can weigh in here.
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