How Much of Your Tax Money Can TxDOT Waste with Their Bad Ideas?

Written by Sinclair Black FAIA

In early 2020, when the community discussion regarding the future of I-35 evolved into ideas about re-inventing the I-35 corridor, the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) invited the Urban Land Institute (ULI) technical assistance team to advise the community on best practice for the corridor. Many good things came out of that effort, including a recommendation by ULI to implement a TIF zone over the ROW and adjacent land.

In 2021, The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) studied other caps in Texas to calculate the actual cost of constructing a cap, finding that current caps in Texas cost $375.00/sq. ft.

In 2022, TxDOT created Modified Alternative 3, their own version of a “boulevard” by combining the East/West frontage roads. In that Alternative they have located a two-way frontage road on the west side of the ROW, raising numerous serious questions:

  1. Where are flyovers placed, and how will one move from the boulevard on the west side to East Austin?
  2. Why is the “boulevard” not placed on top of the cap, directly over the main lanes? This configuration would not require any additional ROW. By placing the frontage road “boulevard” on land, rather than on the cap, TxDOT is removing the City’s ability to maximize development potential on land that is worth as much as $1,000/sq. ft. (the value of recent land transactions nearby).
  3. Why would any entity choose to turn developable land at a value of $1,000/sq. ft. into a frontage road “boulevard,” when it has been clearly shown that any “boulevard” could be placed on a cap, created for a fraction of the cost at $375/sq. ft.?

Even more troubling is that the highway system is continuing to displace and isolate East Side neighborhoods by leaving the sunken main lanes uncovered. This huge canyon constitutes an even greater barrier than presently exists. Keeping the city divided eliminates any potential for a creative reinvention of the corridor to create economic development and a more robust quality of life for Austinites.

The TxDOT plan has no regard for return on investment (ROI) for the taxpayers of Austin and Central Texas. TxDOT views our corridor as nothing more than just another construction project with an enormous “pork barrel” opportunity. Austin should step up and demand a solution deeply rooted in concerns for community, economy, environment, social equity, and the future of the city and the region.

This op-ed can be downloaded here.