Capital Express Plan Proposes Drastic I-35 Changes

November 7, 2017 by Kate Harrington

On October 30, TxDOT officials along with State Sen. Kirk Watson announced a sweeping new plan for a 33-mile stretch of the I-35 corridor that would add two managed express lanes in each direction along 33 miles of I-35 from RM 1431 (Round Rock) to SH 45 Southeast (near Buda) as part of an enhanced I-35 project called Capital Express. The $8.1 billion proposal also includes lowering I-35 through downtown Austin and potentially removing the upper decks from Martin Luther King Boulevard to Airport Boulevard.

Adding two managed express lanes in each direction will require extensive reconstruction of I-35, providing the opportunity to add additional enhancements to the project, TxDOT said in a press release. Those enhancements could include placing the express lanes under the mainlanes where right of way is limited and providing direct access between the express lanes and frontage roads – something TxDOT says would improve safety by preventing drivers from weaving across mainlanes and causing interruptions. The Capital Express project also includes longer entrance and exit ramps, intersection bypass lanes, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

“Five segments of I-35 in the Austin area are on the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2016 Top 100 Most Congested Roads in Texas list,” said Senator Watson. “I-35 through downtown Austin is number two statewide. We need solutions that provide true transit benefits and give drivers reliability when they need it.”

The managed lanes, which would have a variable toll similar to the new Express Lanes on MoPac, would be free to alternative transportation like transit and vanpools. Transportation and planning experts hope that would make it easier to implement Transportation Demand Management (TDM), a combination of policies and strategies that encourage commuters to use infrastructure to travel in a variety of ways instead of driving alone during peak rush hours. If buses, for instance, have a free-moving lane to travel in, they will become a more reliable and appealing form of transportation for more travelers.

TxDOT has been contemplating improvements to I-35 since 2011, and had previously examined a plan to add one toll lane in each direction. This plan would do adjust ongoing environmental studies and consolidate them into one study. In a press release, TxDOT said that instead of studying the project in three sections, the new alternative will be studied as one, from RM 1431 to SH 45 Southeast. Public input provided at previous I-35 meetings, open houses, and workshops will be incorporated into the new project. Opportunities to provide additional input will be available at open houses scheduled for spring 2018.

“Having a new and improved I-35 is something we have been waiting on for generations,” said State Representative Celia Israel. “I am excited to see TxDOT take community input and help us fulfill that vision. This is a game changer when it comes to safety as well as improving this critical Texas asset.”

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.