"Wider Won't Work"
Austinites rally to hit the brakes on I-35 expansion project
There are more and more people coming into Austin, and their cars need somewhere to go, too. It seems to some that widening Interstate 35 would allow for the easier passage of traffic, meaning fewer delays. But some Austinites feel it's not worth the environmental consequences — and may not even solve the issue at hand.
A group called Rethink35 is doing just that, drawing attention to the plan and its perceived shortcomings, including bulldozed homes and businesses, and even worse traffic. The group is holding a rally on November 5 to appeal to more Austinites and gather a message that the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) cannot ignore.
The “Wider Won’t Work” rally, modeled after similar protests including Boston's historic Inner Belt pushback, will bring speakers in front of interested Austinites, plus "food, fun, and activities for all ages," according to a release. Rather than simply causing friction, the release states that the rally should "set the direction for the next phase of the growing campaign by community organizers and elected officials for a better solution than expansion."
The opposition now has the support of Austin City Council, which passed a resolution on October 19 laying out a long list of environmental conditions and public beliefs, ultimately declaring that the project is unfit to continue. The decision was up to TxDOT, which denied the City Council's resolution.
The resolution stated: "City Council finds the projected increase in GHG emissions from the TxDOT I-35 Capital Express Central project, as proposed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision, to be unacceptable and out of step when the Central Texas region is pulling together to reduce those emissions and protect our future."
TxDOT countered, as reported by Community Impact, that delaying the project was not a responsible use of funds.
Other public officials and groups (as shared by Rethink35) have voiced dissent regarding widening I-35, including U.S. Congressman Greg Casar (D), State Representative Gina Hinojosa (D), the Travis County Commissioners Court, and the Austin City Council Mobility Committee.
Rethink35 lists the following five concerns in colloquial language that appeals to Austinites who haven't read or can't understand the more formal government documents:
- "Induced demand" may cause more traffic to fill the newly available lanes — not less
- Increasing the number of cars may cause more air pollution
- The project may displace more than 100 homes and businesses
- The highway may not be a good use of public land, and construction would temporarily limit access to what remains
- Separating downtown and East Austin may exacerbate racial inequity
The group also suggests two alternative plans for reducing congestion on the highway: one of its own, and one by another organization that it endorses.
Rethink35's proposal involves making State Highway 130, which runs parallel to I-35 to the east of Austin, the official alternative and encouraging more use by drivers who want to drive past, rather than through Austin. It also calls for reducing Austinites' car-dependency; It does cite public interest in doing so, but does not publish a prosed method on the website.
The outside proposal Rethink35 endorses is by Reconnect Austin. It states that I-35 could be rerouted underground, allowing for more a more open street above ground for foot traffic and public transportation.
“Despite enormous opposition and environmental concerns, TxDOT refuses to back down from its threat to start expanding I-35 between Highway 71 and U.S. 290 in Spring 2024,” said Rethink35 board member and rally coordinator Kelsey Huse in a release. “This rally will press our elected officials at every level of government to pursue all possible means — including contacting the Federal government — to win a better solution for I-35 than expansion.”
The rally will take place on November 5 at 11 am. It will be held at Sanchez Elementary School (73 San Marcos St.). More information is available at actionnetwork.org.