Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Residents, UT students protest $4.5 billion I-35 expansion project

Leila Saidane
Protestors hold a banner reading “Wider won’t work” during the protest against TxDOT’s planned expansion of I-35 at Sanchez Elementary School on Sunday.

“Highway expansion is not the solution,” hundreds of Austinites chanted outside of Sanchez Elementary School on Nov. 5 in opposition to the expansion of Interstate-35 with claims it would further divide the city and bring bad air to residents’ lungs. 

The Texas Department of Transportation’s $4.5 billion project will add four lanes to the highway to compensate for Austin’s growing traffic. Rethink35, the organization leading the protest, proposed to reroute trucks driving across the country to go around Austin on State Highway 130 and transform I-35 into a boulevard specifically for Austin drivers or deliveries. 

“I look at students at UT right now who want to continue to live in the city and (the expansion) makes life harder on them,” council member Zo Qadri said. “It’s going to be horrific for the environment, horrific for congestion, it’s going to further divide us as a city, and it’s going to displace a lot of brown and Black folks.” 

The crowd gathered around the stage, cheering on multiple speakers, including Chas Moore,  Austin Justice Coalition executive director. Moore pointed out the overpowering white population in the crowd, referencing the prevalence of the racial division that started in 1928 when Austin pushed Black residents to the east side of the highway. He said the expansion would reinforce that division.

“When are we gonna make sure that Austin lives up to its false narrative that it’s a diverse heaven?” Moore asked in his speech.

Behind the speakers stood economics sophomore Heather Hubbs and other students holding a banner saying, “Our future is not freeways.” She said she doesn’t understand how the city can disregard the expansion’s environmental concerns amidst the climate crisis. 

Former Texas Rep. Celia Israel and U.S. Rep. Greg Casar attend the Rethink I-35 rally outside of Sanchez Elementary School on Nov. 5, 2023. (Leila Saidane)

“A city is not defined by its economics, a city is not a collection of its business, a city is not asphalt that cars drive over,” Hubbs said. “A city is made of its people, so we need to start valuing people over cars and infrastructure because if there are no people, there is no city.”

Former Texas representative Celia Israel said Austin needs to build for the 22nd century. She said prioritizing transit could unite the entire city and country with reliable eco-friendly transportation while giving residents an incentive to take the bus over the highway to beat traffic.

“I’m 59 years old and I’ll still be fighting until my last breath,” Israel said. “I’m here today to make sure our collective voice is heard — whether we’re 59 or 19.”

Former Texas Rep. Celia Israel speaks at the Rethink I-35 rally on Nov. 5, 2023. Israel advocated unifying city transit transit and reliable eco-friendly transportation.
(Leila Saidane)

After three years of using public transportation, computer science senior Meyer Zinn said he relies on bike riding over the bus system. He said the disconnectivity of West Campus and the rest of Austin created by the unreliable transit system deprives students of job opportunities.

Kelsey Huse, director of mobilization for Rethink35, said the rally came at the perfect time, following Travis County’s plea for environmental review and City Council’s request to delay funding. With almost 9,000 signatures on Rethink35’s petition, she said the city needs to see residents care. 

Qadri said the entire city let go of their differences to protest the expansion.

“It’s bad for Austin, and it’s not who we are,” Qadri said. “We have a real opportunity to be the council and be the Austin that pushes back this horrific project. And what I don’t want us to be is the council and the city that accepts it.”


11.5.23 Rethink I-35 rally

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About the Contributor
Leila Saidane, Photo Editor
Leila Saidane is a junior from Dallas, Texas, studying Radio-TV-Film and Journalism. Her words and photos have been published in The Texas Tribune, The Austin Chronicle, The Austin American-Statesman and The Dallas Morning News.