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TxDOT identifies 'preferred alternative' for I-35 Capital Express Central Project

(Photo Credit: CBS Austin)
(Photo Credit: CBS Austin)
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TxDOT identifies “preferred alternative” for its I-35 Capital Express Central Project.

The Texas Department of Transportation continues to see opposition regarding its plans to improve Interstate 35. A representative with TxDOT tells CBS Austin TxDOT has identified a preferred alternative for the I-35 Capital Express Central Project.

Austin City Council Member Chito Vela says while the Texas Department of Transportation has made some progress with its proposed plans for much-needed upgrades to I-35, he feels the third blueprint is missing important details.

“I-35 has historically divided our community, and this rebuild is an opportunity to reconnect East and West Austin,” said Vela.

Vela represents District 4 which covers parts of the $4.9 billion project. Over the past few years, the council member says there have been several pedestrian deaths. Vela thinks TxDOT’s current plan lacks additional crossings that could help keep people safe.

“They’re putting one of those elevated pedestrian crossings. It's going to be almost like a quarter mile or maybe a third of a mile across the highway and then you walk all the way down. To me, that's not an effective crossing. That doesn't really enhance mobility for anyone. We need to put in an at-grade crossing that helps bicyclists pedestrians and motorists

TxDOT public information officer Brad Wheelis says these concerns aren’t falling on deaf ears.

“So this is a pedestrian-friendly plan we're building 16 miles of new shared use path for bicyclists and pedestrians on both sides of I-35,”

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Wheelis adds the state agency is taking comments from the public and using that feedback to revamp proposals.

“I think it’s impossible to please everyone. What we've tried to do is come up with a plan that works best. That is what our goal is, to improve safety to mitigate congestion and do this with the fewest right-of-way impacts. We think that modified build alternative three will accomplish that,” said Wheelis.

Although the project has been approved by some, it’s also led to lawsuits. Three groups are suing TxDOT alleging that TxDOT is "violating the law" by splitting its I-35 project into separate parts to avoid a more rigorous environmental review process and public engagement of one larger project.

RELATED: Three groups sue TxDOT over I-35 Capital Express expansion projects

The major project proposes improvements along i-35 from us 290 east to SH71 and Ben White Boulevard, with additional flyovers at I-35 and us 290 east. TxDOT says an additional amount of land will have to be acquired to accomplish the expansion.

“That will mean there are some displacements and so TxDOT is working with those who may be displaced as a result of this project,” Wheelis said.

Council Member Vela would prefer if they built the highway within its current dimensions.

“Although they've reduced the amount of land that they're planning to take, they are still going to have to take a good chunk of Austin land in order to move the platform,” said Vela.

“This project has been in talks for decades, and it is long overdue. And here recently in recent years, we were able to identify funding and get local officials behind this project including our partners at campo de Capital Area metropolitan planning organization, and so there was really some momentum with people saying we want to prioritize I-35 It is outdated. We need to improve it from a mobility standpoint, as well as a safety standpoint. So let's make this a priority. And let's move it forward,” said Wheelis.

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Changes could start happening in mid-2024. TxDOT is also holding a public hearing for feedback on February 9th. To view TxDOT’s environmental impact statement, click here.

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