A divide between local leaders representing Austin and Travis County and those representing more suburban and rural areas in Central Texas emerged June 8 in a vote on which local projects should be deferred to funnel funding toward I-35.
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is made up of government leaders from across Central Texas and responsible for coordinating funding for transportation projects in the region. On June 8, CAMPO’s board voted to defer $633 million of construction projects that had previously received funding—setting those aside so the organization can support the state’s effort to take on a $4.3 billion project to add managed lanes to I-35 in Central Austin.
Deferred projects include $25 million of work that would have reconstructed a piece of RM 620 in Northwest Austin to add an overpass at Anderson Mill Road and $59 million to widen parts of the road from four lanes to six. Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea said the process leading up to the vote and the decision to defer the FM 620 projects did not sit right with her.
“You have an overwhelming request from the public [to complete the project]. You have traffic data that supports the 620 projects, and you have a public promise that was made. I can’t support this,” she said.
There are three Austin City Council members and three Travis County Commissioners on the CAMPO board, along with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. Of those eight board members, six voted no on the list of deferrals.
“I’m not comfortable where we landed in how we allocated the money,” Austin City Council Member Alison Alter said.
Of that group, Biscoe and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty were the only yes votes. Adler, Alter, Council Members Ann Kitchen and Jimmy Flannigan, Shea and Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion represented the six no votes in the 15-6 decision.
Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan said he did not see it as fair that all the board members were making sacrifices for the I-35 project, but the officials representing the area of the I-35 project were not supporting the vote.
“We’re about to be asked to vote on a defer and maintain list to get more funding to a highway that will benefit Austin more than anybody—yet some of the Travis County folks are going to vote against it, so it’s going to fall to all the outside suburb people to vote on this,” Morgan said.
Flannigan said many who live near I-35 would not see it as a benefit to the area.
“The existence of this road has been more of a division and damage to the city of Austin for a lot of reasons. the least of which is the impact on traffic,” he said.
The Texas Transportation Commission voted on April 30 to allocate $3.4 billion to the I-35 project. The commission is set to vote on another $300 million at a future vote. That left a $633 million piece of the $4.3 billion project that CAMPO needed to contribute by diverting funds previously set aside for other projects.
In addition to RM 620, other significant projects that will be deferred include $22 million to widen Pearce Lane in eastern Travis County from two lanes to four and $17.1 million to add two lanes on Lakeline Boulevard. Those projects now do not have a timeline as they await further funding sources, although Ryan Collins, the short-range planning manager for CAMPO, said the projects have not been done away with altogether.
“We are not canceling projects. They are simply being put on hold,” Collins said.
The I-35 project is entering an environmental review stage in which TxDOT will gather public feedback and make decisions on the design leading up to the potential start of construction in 2025.