The letter went to TxDOT on Sept. 24, the day that it closed its public comment period. It followed the Travis County commissioners sending a letter expressing concern over the project Sept. 21 and a group of state legislators sending a similar letter Sept. 17.
The letter from Austin City Council lays out funding options that would allow for the city’s cap and stitch initiative, a project that would add large decks and widened bridges, to be included in the project.
“Funding for the caps could come from the TxDOT-requested, [Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization]-deferred nearly $1 billion in regional projects identified to make this project feasible at a time when other large Texas cities were unable to do the same for projects in their area. Those other cities have now received funding for similar projects and are able to use their regional dollars to fund additional improvements like highway caps. We should also have that same ability,” the letter read.
The council members also called for a design that would allow for managed lanes to be converted to toll lanes and for reducing frontage road lane widths to 11 feet and speeds to 25 miles per hour.
The letter also brings up Project Connect, the city’s $7.1 billion investment in public transit. It notes that the timelines of the proposed I-35 central project and Project Connect would overlap significantly, meaning that the city would have two multibillion-dollar construction projects happening simultaneously.
“Given that the I-35 Capital Express Central project is anticipated to begin construction in 2025 and last for many years, we ask that TxDOT conduct and provide modeling of the mobility impacts of the simultaneous construction of these two enormous projects, and we ask TxDOT to consider whether it may be prudent to delay construction on I-35 until the voter-approved, high-capacity rail lines are operational and available to relieve travel demand,” the letter read.
The only two council members not to sign the letter were District 6 Council Member Mackenzie Kelly and District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria.
While Renteria did not sign the letter initially, he plans to do so and supports its contents, a spokesperson from his office said in an email.
Community Impact Newspaper contacted Kelly’s office but did not receive comment at publication time.
TxDOT closed its window for public comment Sept. 24, but TxDOT public information officer Diann Hodges said in an email that the public can continue to engage on the project as the state transportation agency works toward a preferred alternative in fall 2022.
The CapEx VOICE, volunteer opportunity in community engagement, initiative will host bimonthly meetings with the next meeting scheduled for Sept. 30.
“During the meeting, TxDOT will discuss: Comments and feedback from the Aug. 10, 2021, public meeting; Analysis of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s community alternatives report; aesthetics plan; proposed speed limits; and project updates,” Hodges said.