The expansion of I-35 through the center of Austin has the potential to transform the city, for better or for worse. At the moment, there is no single element of the city’s built environment with a larger impact on the way we navigate the downtown area and beyond — engaging with the highway, whether as a driver or pedestrian, is a fact of life for millions of people, and that fact isn’t always pleasant.
Over the last few years, a number of modifications to the long-term Capital Express project sought with almost suspicious enthusiasm by the Texas Department of Transportation to widen and lower the highway through the city have worked to win over the public with friendly-sounding additions like boulevard-style frontage roads, pedestrian features, and space for the potential construction (at the city’s expense) of roughly 33 acres of deck plazas capping the highway in the downtown area.
If you’re an average driver on I-35 without a significant stake in this process, the inadequacies of its current user experience makes the basic notion of reimagining the highway pretty appealing, and that’s what TxDOT’s counting on. We’re here to tell you that there’s little proof the project will provide any long-term benefits to mobility in Austin, and many arguments for the plan rest on remarkably specious evidence.
There’s an admirable current movement by local groups like Reconnect Austin and Rethink35 to push the project further towards a human-scaled design, and a nearly-unanimous vote earlier this week by Austin’s City Council demanding further improvements to the plan are another step in the right direction. But it’s notable that new boss (and former old boss) Mayor Kirk Watson represents the lone dissenting vote in that effort. Neither Watson’s long-term advocacy of the highway expansion nor his status as a seasoned political operator invested in a friendly working relationship between the city and state seem like great news for the I-35 counter-narrative, but that doesn’t mean we’ve reached a public consensus — for the record, precisely zero people bothered to speak at yesterday’s City Council meeting in support of TxDOT, with approximately 30 speakers calling for changes to the plan.
Zero people showed up or called in to #ATXCouncil today to express their support for the I-35 freeway widening proposal, among about 30 people who did show up to comment on the discussion of the freeway.
— Jay Blazek Crossley (@JayCrossley) February 23, 2023
For now, the best we can do is keep the conversation moving, and there’s currently an opportunity for you to do just that. Until March 7, you can submit comments to TxDOT’s virtual hearing on the I-35 Capital Express Central project’s current design, with feedback sent before that date to appear on the state’s official public record of the hearing. There are obviously other opportunities to get involved, but there’s something particularly appealing about sending your thoughts straight to the source.
Leave a Reply