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Photo by TxDOT: Longer stretches of I-35 would be lowered beneath cross streets as illustrated by this rendering of I-35 at Woodland Avenue, just south of Lady Bird Lake.

Internal memo reveals TxDOT’s latest changes to I-35 expansion plans

Monday, January 10, 2022 by Nathan Bernier, KUT

Lowering Interstate 35 under more cross streets including Holly Street and Woodland Avenue, increasing the number of pedestrian crossings and reconfiguring downtown frontage roads are among the changes to TxDOT’s I-35 widening project that are outlined in a new internal memo to the mayor and City Council.

Speed limits would be reduced on the frontage roads in Central Austin from 40-50 miles per hour to 35-40 miles per hour, similar to major corridors like Burnet Road or Lamar Boulevard.

Frontage roads in the downtown area could be shifted entirely to the west side of I-35, which would free up the east side to allow for more parkland that could transition into widened bridges or decks covering the interstate known as “caps and stitches.”

A TxDOT illustration shows a Red Line commuter rail crossing at Fourth Street with an added pedestrian and bicycle path. The rendering is conceptual and subject to change.

TxDOT says it won’t pay for these caps and stitches, but will work with the city to accommodate their installation.

The recent changes to the I-35 plans were adopted as part of a bid to increase community support for a controversial project that has drawn criticism, including from City Council members, for seeking to widen a strip of concrete that has divided the city racially and economically and sent a flow of loud, polluting traffic streaming through Austin’s core.

A protester holds a sign at a rally in September opposing plans to expand I-35. (Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT)

TxDOT has argued expanding I-35 is necessary to accommodate population growth in the region, improve emergency response times and reduce gridlock, although some traffic experts say increasing highway capacity will only encourage more people to drive.

The Capital Express Central project spans from Ben White Boulevard to U.S. Highway 290 East and is one-third of a broader $4.9 billion plan to expand the interstate through Travis County. The plans include removing the upper decks and adding two non-tolled high-occupancy vehicle lanes in each direction.

TxDOT and the city also plan a 10-month aesthetics program to incorporate “design elements that resonate with the Austin community,” the memo says. The designs would focus on the streets that cross I-35, along with a “signature” bike and pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake.

A TxDOT rendering shows a pedestrian crossing over Lady Bird Lake. The illustration is a concept only and is subject to change.

The revised plans do not appear to address broader concerns from community groups about increasing the capacity of I-35 by adding lanes and expropriating land from neighboring properties.

TxDOT is planning a more detailed public unveiling of changes to its I-35 plans at a public meeting at the Central Library on Jan. 25.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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