Groups sue TxDOT to stop proposed I-35 highway expansions

Several groups are suing the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to stop proposed I-35 expansions.

The lawsuit is being filed by the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Environment Texas, and the Rethink35 campaign. 

The groups say that TxDOT plans to spend more than $1 billion to expand I-35 in the north and south of the Austin area and that by splitting its overall I-35 expansion project into three sub-projects (the I-35 Capital Express North (SH-45 N to US-290 E), South (SH-71/Ben White Blvd to SH-45 SE), and Central (US-290 E to SH-71/Ben White Blvd) projects) TxDOT is falsely claiming that these three stretches of I-35 are "independent utilities" to avoid the more rigorous, legally-required environmental review and public engagement of a single larger project. 

The groups go on to allege that TxDOT’s "Finding Of No Significant Impact (FONSI)" for I-35 South and I-35 North comes despite its plans to considerably expand the North section from 12 to 20 lanes and the South section from 14 to 19 lanes.

"By splitting its I-35 project into separate parts, TxDOT is clearly violating the law," says TexPIRG Environment Campaigns Director Matt Casale in a news release. "For such a major highway project, TxDOT should be undertaking the most rigorous environmental review process, as well as giving the public much more opportunity to meaningfully participate in the conversation."

Rethink35 says it is challenging the very basis of the proposed expansion. 

"Countless examples, including the notorious Katy Freeway expansion in Houston, have shown that widening highways worsens congestion by encouraging more driving," says Adam Greenfield, Rethink35’s Executive Director. 

"The public has a right to consider options for I-35 that will actually work, including alternatives to driving, not just expansion. This is also a major equity issue: Widening freeways worsens serious and fatal traffic crashes, air pollution, noise, and carbon emissions, all of which disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color," adds Greenfield.