Don’t Expand it, Rethink it! Written by Faith Golz

This spring I joined the team of the up-and-coming grassroots movement Rethink35. Being in their first-ever batch of Rethink35 interns I was ecstatic to jump into work that directly impacts all of Austinites and our environment. So far, it is has been an educational and passionate journey that I am excited to share. 

Rethink 35 is a grassroots effort started by a few passionate community members with the mission to stop the proposed expansion of Interstate 35 that goes through downtown Austin and transform it from what we know today into a people’s boulevard. 

Now that sounds like a lot, and I’m sure you have lots of questions, just like I did! But Rethink35 reasoning and a plan to back their proposal.

First, some history. I-35 was built in 1962 and due to the aging infrastructure as well as increased traffic congestion due to population boom, the Texas Department of Transportation(TXDOT) wants to expand the interstate tentatively in five years, which would cost $5 billion. We’ve all driven in I-35 traffic, so why is Rethink fighting the expansion?

Why is the expansion of the I-35 a bad thing? 

The interesting thing about the expansion of I-35, and I-35 in general, is that it’s a dynamic issue that affects everyone. Interstate expansion is a social justice issue, an environmental issue, an economic issue, safety and it just won’t work! It is an intersectional issue and I want to share the main two reasons why I am passionate about fighting the expansion and rethinking what we know.

Interstate construction has historically been used to disconnect communities of color in the United States. Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University stated that “Transportation has always been embedded in civil rights and racism.” In Austin, I-35 segregates the East side of the city from downtown where historically communities of color and lower-income communities have lived, cutting these people off from the rest of the city. By expanding the highway, we are allowing this problem to persist. 

According to the Austin Climate Equity Plan, transportation is becoming Austin’s #1 contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. And climate change is around the corner, Texans can say that after living through the climate crisis of the 2021 Texas Winter Storm, it showed how necessary steps need to be taken immediately to stop the effects of climate change. If Austin is committed to combatting climate change, creating more space for cars to pollute is not the answer!

Even more of a reason to fight the expansion, expanding the highway will not stop traffic congestion. Creating more lanes attracts more traffic. We see that first hand in Texas with the Katy Highway, the highway was expanded and after two years commute times were up 40%. Expanding the highway isn’t the answer to congestion. But where will the traffic go? Thankfully, there is already a solution to that question. Non-local traffic can start to use SH-130, which is an interstate that travels around Austin, not through it! 

Expanding I-35 is not the answer. And transforming the interstate that travels right through our downtown is a real possibility. It’s happened before in cities around the United States and has always been successful. If you want to check out cities that are thriving due to highway removal, here is more information: https://www.businessinsider.com/highway-closing-city-transformation-2018-5#their-destruction-could-transform-american-cities-as-we-know-them-22

A people’s boulevard would allow businesses to flourish, attract tourists, and create opportunities to allow people to walk, bike, bus, while also still giving Austinites the freedom to drive if they choose. 

It is an honor to be a part of such an important movement. I have been working under Adam Greenfield, our team leader, and two other interns, Jake Stern and Dom Troiani. Our main goal has been to create a Rethink35 student group on the St. Edward’s Campus. Mainly, our work has been remote as well the interns will meet on campus to work on our projects. Projects have included creating a Rethink35 poster and petition, which has been hung around campus (keep an eye out!) and working towards creating a student group. We have been communicating with Students for Sustainability to establish a Rethink35 as a subgroup under the club and a club charter is being drafted. Additional projects include preparing presentations to share with students, attending the Rethink35 retreat, signing up for the Earth Day Fair, studying highway expansion, and brainstorming about a Rethink35 rally on campus.

It’s been exciting to create the first student group of Rethink35, we beat UT to the punch. Working with a group in its beginning stages has been eye-opening because you can see what it takes to create an established group that is effective. From making decisions about campaign strategies to learning how to create an effective petition sheet, I am gaining knowledge that allows me to see how positive change can be made in my community.

If this post has given you any inspiration, there are actions you can take! Join the St. Edward’s Rethink35 group by contacting me at fgolz@stedwards.edu or sign the petition at https://www.rethink35.com/ 


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