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Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

OPINION: Rethink35 lawsuit could save Austinites from billion dollar budget, traffic headache

Evan Younger / Hilltop Views
Rethink35 as an advocacy group has student leaders on campuses across Austin, as a way to ensure that student voices are heard on the issue of the I-35 expansion. As a campus, St. Edward’s is bounded by the highway, and its expansion could have negative effects on our community’s health due to carbon dioxide emissions.

The constant battle between certain citizens of Austin and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has taken another twist with the advocacy group Rethink35 and several other plaintiffs filing a joint lawsuit against the department.

The lawsuit centers on the proposed expansion of Interstate 35, and argues that its expansion goes against the National Environmental Protection Act and several civil rights principles. The plaintiffs, which include the Save Our Springs Alliance and Austin Justice Coalition, argue that the project is “failing to properly consider the environmental consequences and environmental injustice impacts.”

Rethink35 previously tried to sue TxDOT for their proposed I-35 expansion in August of 2023, but have since reassessed their legal situation and devoted all of their resources toward this new suit. Still, this will most likely be resources and energy wasted as TxDOT has never had a highway expansion successfully blocked by a lawsuit. Despite the stacking evidence, TxDOT is an organization backed by many oil and gas companies which lobby for the creation of more highways. 

In their new lawsuit, they allege that TxDOT violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) due to the fact they did not search for practical alternatives. Principally, they claim that TxDOT is aware of the negative environmental impact of the expansion and have not sought a method to avoid them. This argument is based on the legal precedent that environmental impact statements are meant for government agencies to “rigorously explore and objectively evaluate all reasonable outcomes.” 

While it can be stated that their Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) failed to search for alternatives, TxDOT claims that there is simply no alternative for the project. According to TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams, “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. TxDOT intends to continue to press forward to deliver the I-35 Capital Express Central project.”

TxDOT posits that they have crafted a thorough project which takes into consideration over “18,000” citizens, community leaders and groups. However, Rethink35 states that they failed to hear any public comments after they created their EIS.

“TxDOT is required by law to do a bunch of public engagement and solicit comments from the public,” Rethink35 Board Member Miriam Schoenfield. “In a case like this, the public doesn’t like the project and they receive a lot of pushback. They then claim ‘we did so much public engagement!’ without mentioning the result of said public engagement.”

TxDOT, in response to negative feedback about the implications of the project, seems to throw up their hands. As an organization, TxDOT claims that they have done everything they can to evaluate the environment and have offered all they can due in mitigating the damage of the I-35 expansion. But, those of the 100 homes and businesses that the expansion will destroy and displace would differ. 

Although this line of logic is valid, ultimately the fight against TxDOT, though valiantly fought, may amount to nothing. Civil action against the government is an immense task, and the Texas Government has refuted all accounts the plaintiffs have brought up -– on both the civil rights and environmental front. 

Despite the strength of Rethink35’s case against TxDOT’s proposed project, the fate of the case is in the air. 

“TxDOT has 60 days from the filing date to respond,” Schoenfield stated. “From there the case could be decided just from the reports provided by the two sides, or potentially brought to trial.”

For now, citizens of Austin, like many at St. Edward’s, irritably wait to see potential action against TxDOT by an underdog voice representing the millions affected by the agency’s plans.

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About the Contributor
Tate Burchfield
Tate Burchfield, Staff Writer
Tate Burchfield is a first year student on the hilltop, and this is his first year writing for Hilltop Views. He is interested in politics and the arts. He is from Galveston, Texas and is excited to spend his time in Austin with Hilltop Views.

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