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TxDOT proposals aim to reduce displacements, add pedestrian crossings in $4.9 billion I-35 revamp

Rendering of Lady Bird Lake looking south under proposals for I-35 updates. (TxDOT)

New bicycle-pedestrian crossings, a changed East Riverside Drive and updated navigation near Lady Bird Lake are just a few changes that may be coming as part of the new I-35.

With plans for the $4.9 billion planned upgrade to I-35 ramping up, Austinites weighed in during a public meeting at Austin Central Library Tuesday evening. Since the last meeting in the fall, TxDOT has made multiple changes to two proposals for the project, known as Alternative 2 and Modified Alternative 3.

The two share many features but differ with a “boulevard style section” and changes to Riverside Drive. With the boulevard, the aim is to shift northbound frontage road traffic to the west side of the downtown region. On Riverside, intersectional changes would be made so there’s space for Project Connect’s Blue Line.

As for Alternative 1, it’s the “no-build option” in the case that the city and TxDOT decide to not go through with the project. Still, the current timeline is set for environmental studies and schematic design work to continue through 2023 with construction to start in 2025.

Previously, community members have expressed opposition to the plans. Some say a key issue to address is how I-35 has historically separated the city, acting as a race and class dividing line.

“We’ve definitely heard about the legacy of I-35 and what it’s meant in our community both as a physical and symbolic dividing line between East and West Austin,” one speaker said. “So we do see an opportunity to address that to improve connectivity to, in a sense, reconnect the city from east and west—East Austin back to downtown and through a series of caps and stitches over the highway where the lanes are depressed and really bring us back to a street-level approach.”

TxDOT says they’re accommodating community requests with changes like the removal of upper decks, reduced speed limits on frontage roads, and enhanced bicycle-pedestrian crossings at 4th Street, 51st Street, Red Line at Airport Boulevard and Lady Bird Lake.

Another community concern was the potential for displacement in the project.

According to the department, alternative 3 reduces displacements from what was shown in August. Though they won’t have precise numbers until environmental studies are conducted, they estimate that about 80% of the displacements they’ve removed from the plans are low-income census blocked or affordable housing.

One example is a multifamily apartment complex with significant low-income units that would’ve been affected. Now, the department says they’ve eliminated that concern, with a total displacement reduction of about 90.

The full list of changes are as follows:

Alternative 3:

  • Reduced displacements by approximately 20 properties
  • Removed proposed flyovers at US 290 East
  • All lanes lowered at Airport Boulevard instead of elevated managed lanes
  • New bicycle-pedestrian crossings at 3rd, 15th, and 41st Street
  • Mainlanes and managed lanes lowered at Holly Street, with bypass lanes elevated
  • Innovative intersection at East Riverside Drive
  • Woodland Avenue crossing will become bicycle pedestrian-only
  • Frontage road shift to create a boulevard from Cesar Chavez Street to Dean Keeton Street
  • Palm Park connection to the east side of I-35
  • Access removed at Woodward Street

Alternative 2:

    • Accommodate deeper profile for deck plazas from 4th to 8th Street only
    • Removal of cap opportunity between Cesar Chavez Street to 4th Street to avoid displacements


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