Travis County commissioners unanimously approved a letter during its Sept. 21 meeting expressing concern about the TxDOT designs.
“The Commissioners Court acknowledges that TxDOT Alternatives 2 and 3 offer improvement over existing conditions, and are good potential starting points to meet the city's project goals; however, more work needs to be done to further align the project with the city's goals,” the letter reads.
The letter followed a Sept. 1 news conference at Stars Cafe that featured multiple groups opposed to the I-35 design, including four Austin City Council members. It also came after a Sept. 17 letter from seven Central Texas legislators that encouraged “further review of a significantly different alternative than the two presented.” The Travis County commissioners cited the letter from the state legislators in their own letter.
Much of the concern surrounding the project stems from its expansion of the highway to 20 lanes and the more than 140 properties that would be displaced by either design.
TxDOT Austin District Engineer Tucker Ferguson said during his presentation to the commissioners that removing the upper decks from Airport Boulevard to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard required knocking down the properties, regardless of the new highway design.
“Even to demolish those, we need room to work,” Ferguson said. “Everybody agrees that the upper decks need to come down.”
Commissioner Brigid Shea said she felt communication around the displaced properties could have been more robust prior to when TxDOT revealed the designs in August.
“I will just say that I’m not satisfied with what the options are under scenarios 2 and 3,” Shea added.
A handful of transportation advocates provided comment on what they said are the project’s shortcomings, including climate change considerations, the project’s outreach to communities of color and the economic implications of the proposal.
“There’s mixed messages,” transit activist Zenobia Joseph said. “The African American community wants to come back, but this is not a project that appears to be welcoming the African Americans back.”
TxDOT continues to take feedback on the proposals from the community until Sept. 24. It then plans to make a final design decision by fall 2022, according to an Austin Transportation Department press release.
Editors note: This story has been updated to include quotes from Tucker Ferguson, Brigid Shea and Zenobia Joseph