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With plans for the planned $4.9 billion upgrade to I-35, Austin residents weighed in at a town hall meeting at the Austin Central Library on Tuesday night. Since the last meeting in the fall, TxDOT has made several changes to two project proposals, 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 goal is to shift northbound vehicular traffic to the west side of downtown. On Riverside, intersectional changes would be made so that there would be room for the Project Connect blue line.
As for alternative 1, it is the “non-construction option” in the event that the city and TxDOT decide not to go through with the project. Yet the current schedule is set for environmental studies and schematic design work to continue through 2023, with construction to begin in 2025.
Previously, community members have voiced their opposition to the plans. Some say a key issue to address is how I-35 has historically separated the city, acting as a dividing line between races and classes.
“We have certainly heard of the legacy of I-35 and what it means in our community as both the physical and symbolic dividing line between east and west Austin,” said said one speaker. “So we see an opportunity to address that to improve connectivity to, in a sense, reconnect the city from the east and the west – East Austin to downtown and through a series of plugs and points of suture on the freeway where the lanes are depressed and really bring us back to a street-level approach.
TxDOT says they are responding to community requests with changes such as removing overbridges, reducing speed limits on frontage roads, and improving bicycle crosswalks at 4th Street, 51st Street, Red Line at Airport Boulevard and Lady Bird Lake.
Another community concern was the potential for displacement as part of the project.
According to the department, Alternative 3 reduces travel compared to what was shown in August. While they won’t have hard numbers until environmental studies are done, they estimate that about 80% of the moves they’ve removed from plans are census-blocked or affordable low-income housing.
An example is a multi-family apartment complex with significant low-income units that would have been affected. Now, the department says it has eliminated that issue, with a total displacement reduction of around 90.
The full list of changes is as follows:
- Reduced movement of approximately 20 properties
- Removal of proposed flyovers at US 290 East
- All lowered lanes on Airport Boulevard instead of raised managed lanes
- New crosswalks for pedestrians and bicycles at 3rd, 15th and 41st streets
- Main lanes and managed lanes lowered to Holly Street, with raised bypass lanes
- Innovative intersection at East Riverside Drive
- The Woodland Avenue level crossing will become pedestrian-only
- Change of facade to create a boulevard from Cesar Chavez Street to Dean Keeton Street
- Palm Park connection to east side of I-35
- Removed access to Woodward Street
- Accepts deeper profile for 4th-8th street deck spaces only
- Removed the possibility of capping between Cesar Chavez Street and 4th Street to avoid travel
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