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TxDOT holds public hearing on I-35 expansion through Downtown Austin

To solve the congestion on I-35, the Texas Department of Transportation wants to widen the highway right through the heart of Austin.

AUSTIN, Texas — If you've ever driven on Interstate 35 through Downtown Austin, you already know how congested it can be.

To solve this congestion, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) wants to widen the highway right through the heart of Austin.

On Feb. 9, TxDOT held a forum at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex for residents and community members to voice their concerns on the impact that the expansion could have on the community. 

"I-35 has basically outlived its usefulness," Brad Wheelis, a member of TxDOT, said. "It's not providing what drivers need, and so we need to upgrade the highway."

I-35 was built in the 1960s and hasn't had any significant upgrades in the last 50 years. With the population of Austin expected to double by 2045, more cars will be on the roadway. 

To mitigate congestion, TxDOT's potential solution is the I-35 Capital Express Central Project

"We're proposing to add two non-tolled, high-occupancy vehicle managed lanes in each direction from US 290 East to SH 71/Ben White Boulevard," Wheelis said. 

It's a $4.5 billion plan that would remove upper decks, widen east-west cross-street bridges, improve pedestrian and bike paths and lower I-35 main lanes between Airport Boulevard and Lady Bird Lake, and Riverside Drive and Oltorf Street. 

"Creating a boulevard-style segment, and that basically is normally have a frontage road on either side of the highway, we move them to one side, put a median down the middle, so it gives more of an urban downtown feel to the boulevard," Wheelis said. "This project is years in the making and years overdue." 

But the plan is drawing backlash. While the public forum was happening inside, grassroots movement Rethink 35 was outside protesting the proposed expansion and asking for alternatives. 

"I'm an environmentalist, and so expanding the lanes is just gonna cause more greenhouse gases, more pollution into our city," said Faith Golz, a member of Rething 35. 

Instead, Golz is fighting for Austin to become a more "walkable city." 

"They're making it so we have to have more cars and everybody has to have a car which I don't think should be the case," Golz said. 

In addition to their protest at the forum, Rethink 35 has a petition for community members to sign to stop the expansion and support safe transportation for the public.

According to Wheelis, TxDOT spoke to more than 18,000 community members to take all their suggestions into account and culminate the responses into the proposal. 

"If you want to know why we need an expansion on I-35, drive it," Wheelis said. "That's all you have to do." 

If TxDOT moves forward with the proposed plan, construction is projected to begin in the middle of 2024. 

If you'd like to submit feedback, you can visit the I-35 expansion project's website, email the project or submit a verbal comment at 512-651-2948. 

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