Police could shut down part of I-35 because of rock throwings

Austin Police say the are considering all options when it comes to putting an end to the rock-throwings along i-35. That includes possibly shutting down a stretch of the highway overnight, and putting up signs warning drivers to be on the look out.

Those are two ideas Fox-7 first raised to APD and to TXDot, the agency in charge of state highways.

In an email to Fox 7 on Tuesday, TXDot said they didn't have any plans to put signs up. Fox 7 also asked about the possibility of shutting down the stretch of I-35 where many of the rock throwings are happening. TXDot said they would consider the requests, from local law enforcement, on a case-by-case basis.

But at a news conference on Wednesday, Fox 7 posed the ideas to the Austin Police Department.

They suggested that closing the lower deck portion of I-35 overnight is a possible strategy that they would consider. They say most of the 83 rock throwings have happened late at night or in the early morning. "We know when traffic is moving that quickly in opposite directions the force of the impact of an object being thrown is much greater," says Assistant Police Chief Chris McIlvain, adding, "we'd absolutely be willing to explore with TXDot."

And with roughly 205,000 drivers a day passing along the stretch of I-35 in Austin, not all drivers know about the rock throwings. "We also realize that while this may be locally a very media intensive event," McIlvain says, "we also recognize that we have visitors traveling through Austin."

But there are no signs alerting drivers to be on the look-out. Fox 7 asked TXDot on Tuesday if there were plans to put any up. A spokesperson responded, "we are not planning to add any signs to I-35 regarding this crime." She also referred Fox 7 to the Austin Police Department.

"We agree that the signage would be a helpful tool," McIlvain told Fox 7 after we explained the email exchange with TxDot.

We also recounted the conversation with District 5 City Council member Ann Kitchen. She heads up the city's "Mobility Committee". "That's frustrating of course," Kitchen says adding, "but what that means is that we need to have further conversation."

TXDot, Austin Police, and other local agencies met for a brainstorming sessions. Signs along I-35 was one of the ideas proposed, but they were never put up. "If that's the results that came out of a previous conversation," says Kitchen, "then we need to determine what are the barriers and why aren't they doing that."

Kitchen says she's going to personally follow up with TXDot about why they aren't planning to put signs up. "I'm going to check on the signs because i don't know why TXDot is saying that. I can't imagine why it wouldn't be a good idea but I would want to understand from them what makes it necessary to happen."

She also says the City Council is ready pitch in, "our Transportation Department, TXDot, APD. What i would like them to do is have them identify a series of solutions and come to the council and let us know which of those they need our help with."

Austin Police say all of the ideas will be discussed with the task force they are putting together. Txdot is going be part of that group. It's likely city council will also weigh in because any proposed solutions have to go through them.

Austin Police are suggesting drivers use the outer lane of the lower deck on I-35, to use the upper deck, or avoid I-35 completely late at night or in the early morning. They are also asking victims to pull over immediately and call 911 and to stay until Police can come to take a report. They say do not touch the rock as it is considered evidence. And they are advising drivers to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

The Greater Austin Crime Commission is offering a $10,000 for tips leading to an arrest and conviction in this case. Police say the suspect could be charged with aggravated assault and attempted murder, as some of the incidents have resulted in serious injury.

Call Austin Police at 512-472-8477 with any information.