Travis County pushes TxDOT to modify I-35 plan to reduce land seizures, add more crossings
Travis County commissioners are doing the same thing Austin City Council did last week: asking Texas to tweak its gargantuan I-35 expansion plan.
The five-member panel of elected officials — led on this issue by Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea — echoed calls from council members to allow for more east-west connections across the highway, filter storm runoff into Lady Bird Lake, reduce land seizures and better integrate frontage roads into their neighborhoods.
Shea's requests of TxDOT, agreed to unanimously by the Commissioners Court, included closer monitoring of fine inhalable particles known as PM 2.5 and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
"We are making recommendations to them, but legally, TxDOT doesn't have to follow them."Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea
But like the City Council, commissioners said they understood their authority as local government officials doesn't extend over the right-of-way controlled by the Texas Department of Transportation.
"We are making recommendations to them, but legally, TxDOT doesn't have to follow them," Shea said. "So I do think the advocacy from the community is important."
The project spans 8 miles through the core of the city — from Ben White Boulevard to U.S. 290 East — adding four high-occupancy vehicle lanes, removing the upper decks and sinking the main lanes below ground level for much of the distance from Oltorf Street to Airport Boulevard.
The immediate impacts of the project — many of which are detailed in a draft environmental impact statement open to public comment till next week — include seizing dozens of properties through the use of eminent domain and installing major new drainage systems to guide unfiltered storm runoff into Lady Bird Lake.
About a dozen opponents of the project, many of whom also addressed the City Council last week, spoke during public comment to thank county commissioners and call for more drastic changes to the $4.9 billion plan.
"I-35 is awful. It's very dangerous," said Heyden Black Walker, an urban planner with Reconnect Austin, a group pushing to bury and cover I-35 while shrinking the highway's footprint. "We do need to build something better."
The flurry of discussion around the future of the highway comes as a window is closing on a 60-day public comment period on TxDOT's draft environmental impact statement.