The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has received federal approval for a controversial plan to expand Interstate 35 through Austin, over the objections of local citizens and advocacy groups who say the project will have massive negative impacts on the environment and quality of life in the city.
What is happening?
The $4.5 billion highway expansion will add two lanes in each direction in certain sections and widen other areas, which officials say will reduce traffic. “This project … will bring congestion relief to Central Texas,” Texas Transportation Commission chairman J. Bruce Bugg Jr. said, per KVUE.
However, critics of the highway expansion disagree with that assertion.
What are the downsides of highway expansion?
One downside of expanding a highway to relieve traffic is that it doesn’t actually work. Studies have shown that increasing the size of highways does nothing to ease congestion and instead actually increases traffic while also increasing car and noise pollution and displacing residents.
It is, in effect, a lose-lose-lose.
For evidence, look at Houston, Texas, where the world’s largest freeway weighs in at a gargantuan 26 lanes, and the result is standstill traffic. Similar results have occurred after other highway expansions around the world, from Egypt to California.
Advocacy group Rethink35 had harsh words for the plan to expand I-35 through Austin.
“As a heat dome scorches Central Texas in record temperatures, there could be no greater insult than TxDOT announcing its decision to massively expand I-35 through Austin,” Rethink35’s board president Adam Greenfield said in a press release posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “[It’s] a project that would divide our city with a heat-trapping asphalt chasm and worsen climate change, making future heat domes hotter and longer.”
All this without any evidence it will actually lessen traffic.
What is being done about it?
Unfortunately, it seems the highway expansion is imminently moving forward despite the objections of thousands of citizens. CBS Austin reported in November that TxDOT requested at least $184 million in funding from the Austin City Council in order to meet the city’s request to build new real estate to connect East Austin to downtown — ensuring that the expanded roadway doesn’t further divide the city.
Meanwhile, ReThink35 isn’t giving up the fight.
“It’s time to unite and defend our city, region, and planet,” Greenfield said in the press release. “Everyone needs to get involved. TxDOT can be stopped.”
The group is now circulating a petition to amp up the public pressure on TxDOT and force it to study alternatives to the plan. Rethink35 also filed a lawsuit in opposition in September, while hundreds of Austinites showed up to rally against the expansion in November.
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