Naked City

TxDOT, VexDOT

The first hour of last week's Texas Dept. of Transportation (TxDOT) presentation and public meeting on I-35 expansion had the feel of a cocktail party without the martinis. Activists and East Austin residents delicately mingled in the LBJ Library foyer with officials from TxDOT, its consulting firm Earth Tech, and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). Stapled to the wall, and printed on long white paper sheets running the length of the room, were the details of the department's $2 billion proposal to expand and enhance a 45-mile stretch of highway between Georgetown and Buda and widen it to 12 lanes through Central Austin.

During the public comment period, however, 21 of 22 speakers used their allotted two minutes to lambaste the plan's latest incarnation. Aside from sharing the standard "not in my back yard" complaints of increased noise and traffic, several said the project would disproportionately affect lower-income and minority areas and could ravage neighborhoods and businesses around Manor Road and 38th: two routes slated to be widened in connection with the project. The Sierra Club's Neil Carman struck the most somber tone, warning of increased air pollution and citing recent studies that show increased cancer rates among families living near highways. "This could create a cancer corridor," he said.

Other speakers wondered if the expansion would be enough to handle future traffic needs. What's the point, several asked, of spending so much time and money on a project that will disrupt local neighborhoods and further foul the air, but won't ease future traffic problems?

To those who lamented that light rail wasn't part of the plan, moderator John Hurt of TxDOT retorted, "TxDOT isn't in the rail business." Afterward, one frustrated Eastside resident called the meeting a "waste of time."

TxDOT will hold two more public meetings --May 7 at Round Rock High School, and May 9 at Akins High School -- before creating its final design. Residents have until May 20 to submit comments to the project hotline at 443-3852 or mail responses to 811 Barton Springs Rd. #400, 78704.

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