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Wed Apr 7, 2021, 05:07 AM

Austin Leans in Hard to Change TxDOT's Mind on I-35

As questions, concerns, and cries for help from thousands of Austinites, including City Hall itself and other powerful public and private stakeholders, pile up in the I-35 Capital Express Central comment files like cars stuck on the Brontosaurus Bridge, the Texas Department of Transportation wants you to know that you have been seen and heard. "During virtual scoping meeting #1, we received more than 2,300 comments, including comments on an interactive environmental constraints map," you'll read on the project website, where you can also view that map (but not comment on it directly; too late for that). "All comments have been documented and are being considered by the project team."

Typically, when a big project like the $5 billion CapExCentral – rebuilding the 8-mile center stretch of I-35 from U.S. 290 East (the Manor Expressway) to U.S. 290 West (Ben White Boulevard) – is being developed, the lead agency has to respond to every question or comment it receives from the public and from other government stakeholders ("coordinating and participating agencies" ) as part of the process. Right now is one of four designated opportunities for public engagement; we're in the "scoping" phase, which TxDOT has broken into two parts, one concluding last December, the other ending April 9.

The virtual open house online now includes a CliffsNotes version of those 2,300 comments, grouped and broadly summarized into 28 themes, none of which are really flattering to TxDOT. Some question whether we should be doing the CapExCen­tral at all. Most urge the agency to do it differently than it has currently sketched out, to better conform with Austin's local consensus regarding mobility and land use, environmental protection, and social equity. Many want to see change to the process now underway, with more robust and authentic community engagement, more time to comment, and more attention paid to issues that Austinites and their leaders feel and fear TxDOT will consign to the back burner.

Local stakeholders still have grave doubts that they were truly seen and heard in that first round of scoping last winter. Among those 2,300 comments are detailed responses and analyses from the city of Austin, Travis County, Capital Metro, the Downtown Austin Alliance, the Urban Land Institute, the Reconnect Austin and Rethink I-35 community coalitions focused specifically on the issue, and many others. All these folks have reiterated goals and visions and essential elements for reinventing I-35 that TxDOT has been hearing for years. Last week, City Council adopted a resolution that "reemphasizes to TxDOT the importance and value of the [city's] comments to the City of Austin and success of the I-35 project. The City Council urges TxDOT to take positive action on these comments in the same good-faith way they are offered."

Read more: https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2021-04-02/austin-leans-in-hard-to-change-txdots-mind-on-i-35/

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