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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

Rethink35 sues TxDOT over I-35 expansion plans

Naina Srivastava
Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, speaks at a ReThink 35 press conference outside TxDOT’s headquarters on Jan. 29, 2024.

A non-profit organization announced its new lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation at a press conference on Monday in front of the agency’s headquarters. 

Rethink35 is a nonprofit organization opposing the Interstate 35 expansion plans brought about by TxDOT. The lawsuit argues TxDOT ignored environmental concerns posed by the expansion.

“We have filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation, and we have written a civil rights complaint letter to the federal government over TxDOT’s plans to expand Interstate 35 through the heart of our community,” said Adam Greenfield, executive director of Rethink35. “These are not just legal documents. This represents a community standing up and finding its voice.”

The lawsuit is the second to come from Rethink35, but the organization’s attorney, Bobby Levinski, said they plan to see this lawsuit through to the end.

“TxDOT was negligent in their carrying out of federal law, acting as a federal agency trying to bypass the environmental analysis that they needed to do,” Levinski said. “We vastly disagree with the notion that TxDOT has met its obligations to fully evaluate the environmental consequences of the project.”

TxDOT responded to the lawsuit in a press release on Saturday, which said the agency plans to “vigorously defend” the I-35 project.

“This is a project designed with the community and for the community,” said TxDOT executive director Marc Williams in the press release. “We have carefully followed and even exceeded the environmental and legal requirements to advance this project. We don’t believe that the actions of these opponents have merit.” 

However, Rethink35 supporters say that’s not true.

The proposed expansion poses risks to the environment by decreasing air quality and further contributing to climate change, said Luke Metzger, executive director of the nonprofit Environment Texas.

“The proposed expansion of I-35 through Austin would be a disaster for our environment, increasing deadly particulate pollution into the air, polluting Lady Bird Lake, causing the loss of parkland and exacerbating the climate crisis,” said Metzger. “The amount of additional vehicles that will be added to I-35 will add as much pollution as a coal-fired power plant by 2050. … TxDOT has failed to properly account for all of these environmental impacts.”

Former Austin City Council member and mayoral candidate Kathie Tovo attended the press conference to support Rethink35. Tovo said the proposed expansion won’t solve Austin’s traffic issues.

“Rethink35 and the coalition of organizations have proposed some good alternatives, like removing the tolls and diverting trucks to (State Highway) 130,” Tovo said. “I-35’s expansion is going to have a big impact, not just in terms of displacing businesses and residents along that area.”

Former Texas State Representative Celia Israel also attended in support of Rethink35. Israel said alternatives like dedicated on-and-off bus ramps would be a better solution to address highway congestion instead of building more lanes for single-occupancy vehicles.

All four Travis County commissioners, Travis County Judge Brown and 10 of the 11 Austin City Council members voted in support of wanting more from I-35 than the proposed plan suggests, Israel said.

“For some reason, TxDOT wants to widen I-35 and further the divide between the people of Austin,” said Misael Ramos, Rethink35 advocate and the conference’s master of ceremonies. “We cannot allow the expansion to exacerbate the already existing racism in our city and keep pushing the social and financial inequities onto Black and brown communities.”

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About the Contributor
Naina Srivastava, Senior News Reporter & Senior Photographer
Naina is a freshman journalism major from Mountain View, California. She is currently a senior news reporter and senior photographer at the Texan.