UPDATED: TxDOT could face hiccup in plans to add 4 toll lanes to I-35

The Texas Department of Transportation is considering removing the upper decks of I-35 as part of its updated $8.1 billion plan for improving traffic congestion on I-35.

The Texas Department of Transportation is considering removing the upper decks of I-35 as part of its updated $8.1 billion plan for improving traffic congestion on I-35.

UPDATED: Nov. 20 at 3:03 p.m.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, responded to pushback from the state's top leadership regarding the Texas Transportation Department pursuing toll lanes, including on I-35.

"Our state leaders should not shut the door on providing Texans true relief from traffic congestion," he said in the statement. "It should surprise no one in the Texas Capitol that the money approved by voters in recent years was far too little to provide Texans true relief on our most congested roadways. All told, the additional money provided to TxDOT amounts to less than $4 billion this year, which is well below the $5 billion TxDOT said in 2010 was needed to maintain—not reduce—traffic congestion. And actually reducing congestion would cost even more."

Watson said he has been assured by Gov. Greg Abbott's office and state transportation leaders that the overhaul of I-35 in the Austin area remains a top priority.

"We cannot and should not squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unclog I-35, which is one of the most congested roadways in Texas," Watson said. "Talk doesn't unclog roads. It takes money and more money than the state currently has available if we're going to meet our real, honest needs."

POSTED: Nov. 20 at 12:31 p.m.

Recently announced plans to add toll lanes to I-35 in Central Texas could already be facing resistance from the state’s top leadership.

On Oct. 30, the Texas Department of Transportation announced an updated $8.1 billion plan for I-35 that included adding four toll lanes from RM 1431 in Round Rock to SH 45 SE near Buda.

However, in a Nov. 16 letter to the chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission—the governing board for TxDOT—Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he opposes the agency’s plan to add toll lanes to 15 projects in the Unified Transportation Plan, which is TxDOT’s 10-year plan that guides construction, development and planning activities.

“The Texas Legislature and voters have made additional revenues available to address the serious funding challenges of meeting our state’s transportation infrastructure needs. In fact, Texas is spending record amounts on transportation. TxDOT’s proposal to add managed toll lanes is simply not consistent with the policies set forth by the Legislature,” Patrick wrote.

Voters approved propositions 1 and 7 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. These propositions both diverted additional money to the State Highway Fund but that funding cannot be used to build toll facilities.

Patrick also stated he remains committed to working with the commission to determine how TxDOT, with “the additional funding and toll reforms put in place by the Legislature,” can meet its growing infrastructure demands.

When asked how Patrick’s stance on new tolled facilities would affect the agency’s plans for adding four toll lanes on I-35, a TxDOT spokesperson said the agency is still studying how to add additional capacity to the interstate and that those additional lanes could take a variety of forms.

An environmental assessment of how the new lanes would affect the community and environment is underway, and TxDOT expects a decision on the impact in 2019.

TxDOT has nine active projects underway on I-35 in Hays, Travis and Williamson counties, including two which are mostly completed Kyle and South Austin and one starting in January from Rundberg Lane to Hwy. 290.

Planning for I-35 improvements in Central Texas began in 2011 after the Texas Legislature earmarked $300 million to improve mobility in the state’s most congested corridors. Central Texas received about $31 million of these Rider 42 funds. TxDOT released its implementation plans in 2014-15.

Instead of funding the entire plan, TxDOT opted to fund projects piecemeal as money became available. To date, $329.8 million has been put toward nine area projects, mostly funded from propositions 1 and 7.

More information is available at www.my35.org.
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By Amy Denney

Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.


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