CAMPO commits $633 million to fund I-35, delays decision on specific choices for project deferrals
A $4.3 billion project on I-35 will add managed lanes through downtown Austin. To fund the project, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization will defer $633 million worth of projects that had previously been approved. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Texas Transportation Commission is scheduled to vote April 30 on securing $4.3 billion to add managed lanes on an 8-mile stretch of I-35 through downtown Austin, from US 290 to Hwy. 71.
A portion of that funding—$633 million—will be diverted from local projects CAMPO has already funded.
Determining the specific projects that will be deferred in order to prioritize I-35 has been a source of contention among the CAMPO board, a planning organization composed of local government officials from across the Central Texas area.
On April 20, the day CAMPO was initially set to vote on the local projects to defer, the board instead voted to commit to the overall $633 million figure and to delay the vote on the specific projects until its June 8 meeting.
Tucker Ferguson, Austin district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, said he recognized the community importance of all the projects that could be up for deferral. He said the extra time will give the board to evaluate all the information to make some hard decisions.
“Every project we have on the list is important to the community because if they weren’t important to somebody, they wouldn’t be on the list in the first place,” Ferguson said.
CAMPO staff put together a draft list of projects to defer totaling $591 million ahead of the board’s April 6 meeting, but the relative weights of projects will change when staff adds scores to some projects. That process will happen in May ahead of the June decision.
“We are going to give those [projects] scores and be able to rank them against everything else. We feel we can go back, score the unsecured projects, slot them in and give you a true apples-to-apples comparison," CAMPO Executive Director Ashby Johnson said.
The initial draft included deferrals of projects in Western Travis County along RM 620 and Loop 360. Canyon Creek neighborhood resident Randy Lawson argued those should be prioritized and kept on the list to begin construction because the roads are overcrowded with traffic.
“Deferring these critical RM 620 projects that have already been approved, such as the 620-Anderson Mill Road intersection, and also many of the Loop 360 improvements, is just unacceptable, in my humble opinion,” Lawson said.
Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea told her fellow board members she is concerned about the state’s funding sources for the I-35 project due to the volatility of TxDOT's revenue sources during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier on April 20, U.S. oil prices fell below zero—and oil and gas taxes are one of the sources of revenue the state draws from.
The Texas Transportation Commission is scheduled to meet April 30. In a March 16 letter, Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, wrote to the commission asking it to delay adoption of the plan, which would lock the I-35 funding into place.