Controversy erupts over TxDOT’s plans for I-35 expansion project in downtown Austin

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TxDOT’s proposed plans for the project would result in the demolition of dozens of businesses and homes in downtown Austin.

AUSTIN, Texas – Tensions are mounting over the Texas Department of Transportation’s $ 4.9 billion plan to renovate Interstate 35 through downtown Austin.

TxDOT intends to widen the freeway, adding two managed lanes in each direction – and getting rid of nearly 150 businesses and homes in the area, including the Stars Cafe and the Austin Chronicle building. Based on an initial analysis, at least 35% of the planned demolition would be minority or low-income properties, according to state documents.

At least five Austin City Council members and several community members plan to speak out against the plans proposed by TxDOT at a 9 a.m. press conference on Wednesday.

One of these options would put the I-35 underground and create a boulevard above it. This would require the digging of a tunnel between Lady Bird Lake and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Another option would make the highway a boulevard, similar to Congress Avenue. Community leaders who support this option say it would restore the road network that I-35 currently blocks and make people less dependent on a single artery like I-35. They also say the development would promote other types of transportation such as cycling, walking or using public transportation.

A third option proposed by the Urban Land Institute would put caps on parts of I-35, in an effort to connect the city and create more community spaces. However, this would not be included in the funding TxDOT has available for this project.

Community alternatives have already been investigated by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, which has found that none are feasible. But some community advocates argue that the study was not in-depth enough.

There is also the option without construction, where nothing would change.

A spokesperson for TxDOT told KVUE that the current plans are the result of years of collaboration with the city and stakeholders. The agency will continue to work with these groups as the plans are refined.

The I-35 is the most congested road in Texas, and TxDOT says Austin’s continued population growth will only make conditions worse today.

The public can still weigh in on the project until September 24 by visiting the project’s website.

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