Concerns, Tension Linger After CAMPO Delays Projects To Help Pay For I-35 Plan In Austin

Jun 8, 2020

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board approved a final list of projects that will be deferred to help pay for major improvements on I-35 in Austin, after months of debate. 

The CAMPO board voted in April to contribute $633 million to help the state close a funding gap for the I-35 Capital Express project, which would dramatically redesign the highway through downtown. But the board, largely made up of elected officials from across a six-county region, delayed a vote on which projects would be deferred until they could agree on how that would be decided.

Many board members, particularly Austin City Council members and Travis County Commissioners still weren’t happy with the result.

Some cited the fact that projects at the intersection of RM 620 and Anderson Mill Road were deferred, while plans for new frontage lanes on 183A from Avery Branch Road to RM 1431 are moving ahead.

“I just don’t think it’s right. You have an overwhelming request from the public, you certainly have traffic data that supports the 620 projects and you have a public promise that was made,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said. “I think there are problems with this process.”

CAMPO staff pointed out that deferring projects doesn't mean cancelling them. They could be restarted as soon as funding from other sources is found. Preliminary work ahead of construction can continue for post of the deferred projects. 

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said funding the 183A lanes and not other projects showed misplaced priorities. He also pushed back against suburban leaders, like Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan, who criticized Austin officials who voted against the list, even though the I-35 plan would benefit the city.

“I think I-35 is not the type of project that mostly benefits the community where it sits. If anything, it mostly harms the community where it sits,” Flannigan said. “The existence of this road has been more of a division and a damage to the City of Austin for a lot of reasons, the least of which is the impact on traffic.”

The Texas Transportation Commission announced a $4.3 billion plan in February to help close the funding gap for the I-35 Capital Express Project. The commission voted in April to allocate $3.4 billion, with a vote on the final piece of that funding coming in the summer.

The portions of the project between State Highway 45 North to U.S. 290 East (Capital Express North), as well as from Ben White Boulevard and State Highway 45 Southeast (Capital Express South), are already paid for. Construction on those sections is set to begin in 2022.

More extensive plans for the project through downtown Austin have been on hold, because of that lack of funding. As it stands now, construction would begin in 2024 or 2025.

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