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The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Expanding I-35 is environmentally detrimental

Illustration by Quinn Fanta

Despite major protests taking place in Austin last year, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has announced it will continue its efforts toward expanding Interstate 35 (I-35) throughout Central Texas in 2024. The project is anticipated to cost $4.5 billion, and its scope includes additional lanes, bridge reconstruction and lowering the highway as it follows a “cap and stitch” plan.

Rethink35, along with many other environmental organizations and community members, have officially filed a lawsuit against TxDOT for failing to properly evaluate the environmental effects of the project as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

TxDOT must make the proper efforts to protect the environment and consider NEPA requirements throughout the highway expansion project.

Among the organizations suing TxDOT is the Save Our Springs Alliance, a conservation group working to protect the Edwards Aquifer region. The Edwards Aquifer is the natural source that provides drinking water to over four million people in Central Texas, and is responsible for the San Marcos springs system that charges the San Marcos River.

Bobby Levinski, an attorney for the Save Our Springs Alliance, said TxDOT’s environmental evaluation of the project was not thorough enough and did not adequately consider the possible effects the project will have on air quality, water quality and pollution rates.

Some studies support Levinski’s assertion, including observations from activist Micheal Moritz, who found that between 2015-22, 130 TxDOT projects were found to have “no environmental impact” after an initial review, but only six projects had received full environmental evaluations.

One major counterargument to the goals of Rethink35 is the issue of traffic and the idea that expanding I-35 will lessen it. However, highway expansion in Texas has been proven to do little when it comes to alleviating traffic congestion, as seen in Houston when the expansion of the Katy Freeway caused commute times to increase by 55%. The Rocky Mountain Institute, a sustainability non-profit, also published calculations revealing the I-35 project will result in 1.2 to 3.6 million emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050.

Jessie Powell, a Texas State graduate student pursuing an M.S. in Population and Conservation Biology, said the environmental impact the project could pose will be significant.

“Generally speaking, any highway expansion brings a lot of environmental issues: the destruction of wildlife habitat, increased impervious cover, increased carbon emissions and exacerbation of urban heat islands,” Powell said in an email to The University Star.

All of these grievances are why community members in both Austin and San Marcos participated in protests last year with Rethink35. These grievances are also why Central Texas residents must continue to advocate for environmental protection.

Powell attended one of these protests last November, and said the atmosphere of the protest was inspiring.

“There was a strong feeling of community at the rally; it wasn’t the biggest demonstration I have been to, but the Rethink35 movement is still in its early days and is gaining momentum,” Powell said in an email to The Star. “I also appreciated that the speakers, and even just the other attendees, at the rally offered different perspectives on the expansion; while some approached it as strictly an environmental issue, others spoke of its racist roots and its contribution to gentrification.”

Rethink35’s protest efforts have been extremely revealing of the broad number of people from different age groups, cultural backgrounds and perspectives who are all interested in a common goal: making Texas a more sustainable state.

Powell also gave some insight regarding I-35’s expansion as it pertains to larger discussions around climate change.

“The proposal to expand I-35 instead of investing in alternative public transit shows a total denial of the climate crisis,” Powell said in an email to The Star. “We need to see massive climate action now, and the proposed expansion would take us in the complete opposite direction we need.”

Despite the lawsuit being filed on behalf of Rethink35, TxDOT said it wants to continue with the project, expressing the belief that the lawsuit holds no merit.

Texas citizens and Texas State students expect more. TxDOT’s plan to expand I-35 will be detrimental to not only the environment but to our progression toward a more sustainable society.

-Faith Fabian is an English sophomore

The University Star welcomes Letters to the Editor from its readers. All submissions are reviewed and considered by the Editor in Chief and Opinions Editor for publication. Not all letters are guaranteed for publication.

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