TxDOT Moving Forward With Plan to Widen I-35 in Austin

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) wants to spend $4.6 billion to expand Interstate 35 in Austin despite alternative plans proposed by local groups.

August 18, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Aerial Texas Hill Country at sunset, with an aerial view of a highway interchange and Interstate 35 in Austin, Texas.

Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock

"The Texas Department of Transportation this week unveiled its latest proposals to widen the busiest stretch of highway in Central Texas to more than 20 lanes in some areas, significantly increasing Interstate 35's capacity for traffic while engulfing adjacent property," reports Nathan Bernier.

"The $4.9 billion plans — which include adding two non-tolled lanes in each direction, building direct connectors at I-35 and US 290 East, lowering the main lanes and eliminating the upper decks — have already drawn criticism from community groups that have advanced competing proposals to reduce I-35's footprint," adds Bernier.

Planetizen first picked up news about the I-35 Capital Express Central project in November 2020. Since then, a number of groups—including Rethink35, Reconnect Austin, and a partnership between the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Urban Land Institute—have proposed alternatives for the project that would limit some of the impacts of the potential roadway.

According to Bernier, TxDOT enlisted researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) to rebuff the proposals generated by those groups. TTI is the same organization that produces the "Urban Mobility Report" cited as authoritative congestion science by local media every year to justify more spending on highway and road expansions.

Experts like Joe Cortright and Todd Litman have repeatedly criticized the research and data practices of TTI—Litman in a blog for Planetizen and Cortright for City Observatory. TxDOT calling on TTI as academic authorities to justify the highway expansion is a political move worth noting.

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