Austin tea house is one of many displaced by I-35 expansion project

The Texas Department of Transportation's I-35 expansion project will displace more than 100 properties, and they're working with business owners on relocation. 

One of the affected businesses is West China Tea Company, which is on I-35 near Airport. 

Founder So-Han Fan has poured everything into the business for the past 10 years.

"Why is this happening again? Because, like everyone else, we had to deal with COVID, which was a major disruption to our ability to do business. And then just everything else has happened since then. It feels like, as a business owner, it's like I just want to do business. I don't need nonstop crises. And this one is like coming after us, 'oh, by the way, we're going to expand the freeway and tear down your building,'" Fan said.

Fan had a meeting with TxDOT on Monday about finding a new space. One-hundred and eleven properties will be displaced by the I-35 Capital Express Central Project. 

The meeting was an opportunity to connect business owners with landlords of vacant properties and relocation team members.

"Right now, I-35 just isn't meeting the demand. People are in congestion day after day, so we need to do something to improve mobility and safety along the corridor," Brad Wheelis with TxDOT said. 

"It's very vulnerable, and it can feel very disenfranchising when it doesn't feel like there was a lot of consideration for the way it was going to affect people's lives," Fan said.

Fan says their TxDOT liaison has been helpful, but the timeline hasn't been clear. Right now, September 2024 is their expected move date. 

"I don't know where we will find a place in September 2024. What's available now is not going to be available then," Fan said.

The tea house has custom work that will be difficult to move, like a moon door shelf. What they can't move is the work they've done to the structure and the community they've built at that location. 

"There's a lot of opportunity in Austin to create a really special space, but we are just really shackled by this long timeline," Fan said.

He says it's a massive change to something that's more than just a business. 

"This is my whole life, my livelihood, my family's livelihood and my creative vision for the world that is in play here," Fan said.

The I-35 Capital Express Central project will add two non-tolled high-occupancy-vehicle managed lanes in each direction along I-35 from US 290 East to SH 71/Ben White Blvd. It will also lower the I-35 main lanes between Airport Blvd. and Lady Bird Lake and Riverside Drive and Oltorf Street.