The I-35 expansion project hit a major roadblock. A volunteer grassroots campaign called Rethink35 filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation. Shrouded in controversy since its inception, the negative impact of the freeway expansion is only just coming to surface. TxDOT presented the project as a surefire way to alleviate congestion on the highway. A highway that is at the top of the list of the most congested highways in Texas. However, shady dealings and false statements spearheaded this campaign. Rethink35 hopes to remedy this before it’s too late. They are up against huge law firms and smear campaigns. The lawsuit may be too little too late in a true David versus Goliath story. It will be up to the general public and the citizens of Austin to support Rethink35 if they have any hope of winning their suit.
Rethink35’s lawsuit is clear. They claim that the developers split the I-35 project into three smaller projects. By doing this, the developers were able to circumnavigate certain permits and approvals. Environmental reports showed that each of the smaller three projects would have the minimum impact on the community. However, once all three of these reports come together, the impact is much greater than imagined. The combined project would displace one hundred and forty-seven commercial and residential properties.
To win their lawsuit, they’ll have to prove that these three projects are actually one giant project. That one project could not exist without the other two. Then they can petition TxDOT to contract another environmental impact report to show the true impact of the project.
Rethink35 has to only point to neighboring Houston to prove freeway expansion doesn’t work. The Katy freeway expanded to 23 lanes, and commutes increased on average by 19 minutes. Nationwide, freeway expansions increase congestion by 144 percent. This sounds counterintuitive. More lanes means more places for cars. This should mean less congestion. However, the phenomenon is known as “Induced Demand.” More lanes means more drivers using the road, and therefore, more congestion.
By no means does anyone think that I-35 is perfect the way it is. It’s a busy highway that divides Austin into two. However, with alternative roadways, paths for non-motorized vehicles like buses and pedestrian paths, and more focus on mass transit, they believe there’s a better way. However, the state of Texas just approved over $80 billion to expand highways all across the state. This is almost the entirety of their budget, which has no allocations for mass transit. It is a huge reminder that Texas’ priorities lie in highway expansions, and Rethink35 may have to fight more than just TxDOT.
All in, we even wrote about the benefits of the I-35 project. The announcement came with almost complete certainty that their environmental impact would benefit Austin. However, groups like Rethink35 demystify government overreach and cast the shroud, illuminating big government’s true intentions. The lawsuit holds water, but it will take some serious resources to beat the state, something that Rethink35 may not have. They are completely run by volunteers with donations from crowd sourcing.