I-35 Widening in Central Austin

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is widening 8 miles of Interstate 35 (I-35) through central Austin from US 290 East to SH 71 / Ben White Boulevard  in a planned project called I-35 Express Central.  According to TxDOT, the project will require 41.7 acres of new right-of-way.

Many of the TxDOT takings will be total in nature (i.e.: TxDOT takes the entire tract of land).  TxDOT reports that the project will result in 107 total displacements, including 69 businesses and 26 residences.  Other takings will be partial, which means TxDOT will take some, but not all, of the property.  Partial takings often damage the value of the remaining land not taken.  

TxDOT has started to issue initial offer letters on certain priority properties. TxDOT will issue more initial offers to other property owners in the coming months. Property owners only get one opportunity to recover the constitutional just compensation owed for the taking. 

If you own property along I-35 that will be impacted by TxDOT’s taking, let the lawyers at Marrs Ellis and Hodge put their experience to work for you.  Contact our Austin office for a free consultation and to learn more about your case, including a courtesy evaluation of any offer you have received.     

US 29/SH 36 Interchange – Central Direct Connect

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will be making improvements to the intersection of US 290 at SH 36 in Brenham, Texas in a planned project called US 290/SH 36 Interchange – Central Direct Connect. TxDOT originally considered three concepts that were presented and shared with Brenham City Council and Washington County Commissioners Court. Based on feedback from the City and County, TxDOT developed two additional concepts for a total of five concepts. In Spring of 2021, TxDOT announced that Revised Concept B – Central Direct Connect was the selected alternative for further development. All concepts include the following: (i) the expansion of US 290 at SH 36 connection from one to two lanes; (ii) convert frontage roads one-way; (iii) update the entrance and exit ramps to current standards; and (iv) accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians within the urban settings.

TxDOT is anticipating a Public Hearing early 2023. TxDOT is currently undergoing its environmental review process which is an essential part to a finalized route. See the timeline below for anticipated dates of right of way acquisition (expected 2024-2025) and construction start date (expected 2026).

Project Connect Light Rail in Austin

In November 2020 Austin voters approved an expansion of Austin’s public transit system through a project called Project Connect. When voters approved the project it was estimated to cost $7.1 billion, however, the estimated cost has since risen to $11.6 billion. The Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) has said the increased costs are due to increased labor and material costs, and increased property values for the land needed for expanded right-of-way (ROW). In response to growing costs the designs for the project’s planned light rail lines have been revised. At a public Open House on March 21, 2023, the ATP unveiled five possible design options for the revised light rail system.

All five light rail design options presented propose a significantly smaller system than what was previously planned. The original planned light rail system included two train lines and about 28 miles of track. Of the five new light rail design options, the longest option only includes about 12 miles of track.  Two of the options presented include only street level track, two options include elevated portions of track and street level tracks, a final option includes a small underground section of tract with the rest of the track at street level. All five options propose slightly different routes for the system. The option with the furthest north route stretches to a proposed new North Lamar Transit Center on Lamar Blvd. north of US Hwy 183. The furthest south reaching option stretches to a station on South Congress Ave. near St. Edward’s University. The option that travels the furthest eastward would reach Austin Bergstrom International Airport. None of the options presented would travel further west than North Lamar Blvd. The Austin Transit Partnership did indicate that it views these smaller proposed designs as merely a starter system with the ability to expand any of the options in the future. However, there are currently no proposed future plans for expansion of the system beyond the five design options presented.

All five light rail design options will require an expansion of the ROW along the lines’ routes. Until a final design is chosen it is not possible to determine exactly which properties will be impacted by ROW expansion. The ROW expansion is expected to displace residents and the project’s budget currently dedicates $300 million to displacement issues. It is unknown if the current concerns surrounding the project’s cost will affect this displacement budget. The Austin Transit Partnership is currently taking public feedback on all of the design options and plans to choose a final design in June 2023. ATP expects the earliest the process for acquiring new ROW could being is sometime in 2024, with although ATP stated that the process of taking a few unidentified parcels of land could begin as early as 2023.

I-35 Expansion in Central Austin

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will be making improvements to 8 miles of Interstate 35 (I-35) from US 290 East to SH 71 /Ben White Blvd through central Austin in a planned project called I-35 Express Central. According to TxDOT, the project will require 41.7 acres of new right-of-way (ROW) and will result in 107 total displacements, including 69 businesses and 26 residences. Impacted property owners have a constitutional right to be paid just compensation if their land is taken.

TxDOT considered serval build alternatives for the project and has selected Modified Alternative 3 as its preferred alternative. The project’s improvements in Modified Alternative 3 include adding two non-tolled high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) managed lanes in each direction, lowering sections of the managed and main lanes through downtown Austin, and removal of the existing upper decks between Airport Blvd. and MLK Jr. Blvd. Additional improvements include, adding a boulevard-style frontage road segment through downtown Austin, widened east-west cross-street bridges, reconstructing the bridge across Lady Bird Lake, a new pedestrian/bicycle only bridge, and enhanced bicycle and pedestrian paths.

TxDOT is currently undergoing its environmental review process and expects to release its final environmental report in late summer 2023. Inspections of effected properties by TxDOT’s appraisers have begun. TxDOT currently plans for appraisals and initial offer letters to be sent to landowners in early fall 2023. TxDOT is estimating the first phase of construction will being in spring 2024. The project has an 8-year construction timeline and is not expected to be completed until 2032.

FM 646 in Galveston County

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is proposing design modifications and additional right-of-way (ROW) needs along FM 464 from Edmund Way to FM 3436 in Galveston County. The proposed project includes accommodating storm water detention ponds and improving access roadways at the proposed overpass at the railroad crossing.  According to TxDOT’s project page, approximately 20 acres of proposed right-of-way (ROW) will be acquired across the project’s total length of 4.4 miles.  TxDOT hosted a public meeting that was posted as a pre-recorded presentation on Thursday, February 15, 2022. According to that meeting, the next steps would be to update and finalize the environmental studies, design and ROW acquisition.

Widening I-20 in Harrison County 

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is proposing to widen I-20 in the cities of Hallsville and Marshall from FM 450 to SH 43 (CSJ: 0495-08-109). The project improvements would expand the existing two lanes to three 12-ft lanes in each direction, add one-way frontage roads between FM 450 and FM 3251, and include other mobility improvements. The improvements will run across 10 miles, and require 57 acres of new right of way. Currently, complete funding for the project has not been identified so TxDOT is planning to construct the project in phases. In February, TxDOT conducted an in-person and online public meeting in which they claimed that right of way acquisition is expected to occur from 2023-2026.  According to the project’s development and predicted timeline, the first phase of construction should begin in 2026.

Loop 9 in Dallas and Ellis Counties

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), through a project known as the Loop 9 Segment A project (CSJ: 2964-10-006), has plans to create a direct east west link between US 67 and IH 35E through Dallas and Ellis counties. The ultimate plan for the project is the construction of a six-lane new frontage road system across the projects 9.4 miles in length. The new location frontage road system would include an eastbound and westbound frontage road facility, each consisting of three 12-foot lanes, an 8-foot inside shoulder, and an 8-foot outside shoulder for bicycle accommodations within the rural section of the proposed roadway, all of which would require new right-of-way (ROW). However after consideration of the limited funding, TxDOT has split the project into two phases; phase 1 would construct a single two-lane, two-way frontage road, and phase 2 would construct the other side of the paired frontage road (if and when funding becomes available).

In March 2022, TxDOT conducted two in-person meetings and one virtual meeting to obtain public opinion and feedback. Currently, there are 4 schematic alternatives as well as 4 modification alternatives. Use the following link to access the project’s interactive map (https://maps.bgeinc.com/Loop9/). According to the timeline they provided, the next steps would be to finalize their environmental impact study by the end of 2023. Right-of-way acquisition is set to begin promptly after that study is complete and approved.

New 138 kV High Voltage Transmission Line in Caldwell and Gonzales County

Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative, Inc. (GVEC), an electric utility company in Gonzales, Texas, plans to construct a 138 kilovolt (kV) transmission line in Caldwell County and Gonzales County, Texas known as the Delhi-to-Bluestem 138-kV Transmission Line Project.  In May 2020, GVEC filed an application the Public Utility Commission for an amendment to its Certificate of Convenience and Necessity (CCN) requesting approval for this project. In July 2020, the Commission administrative judge found the application sufficient. The project’s right-of-way would be 80 ft. wide, and stretch 13 miles in length starting from Wolf Run Road in Caldwell County to County Road 437 in Gonzales County. According to the timeline provided in GVEC’s approved PUC application, right-of-way acquisition is underway, and construction is on track to begin sometime later this year.

I-35 Improvements in Austin

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) of Austin will be making improvements to 28 miles of Interstate 35 from SH 45 North to SH 45 southeast though an on-going project known as the I-35 Capital Express Program. It is made up of three stand-alone projects – North, Central and South. The Central project is on a later time frame, while the North and South projects are generally ahead, and on the same timeline.

The North I-35 project’s improvements include, but are not limited to, adding one non-tolled high-occupancy vehicle managed lane in each direction (from SH 45 North to US 290 East), reconstructing bridges, and adding a diverging diamond interchange. TxDOT says that the project will require an additional 17 acres of new right-of-way (ROW), and will displace 5 commercial properties. Offer letters are currently underway and construction is expected to begin sometime this year. Similarly, the South I-35 project’s improvements include, but are not limited to, adding two non-tolled high occupancy vehicle managed lanes in each direction (from SH 71/Ben White Boulevard to SH 45 Southeast), reconstructing bridges, and adding pedestrian and bicycle paths. For the South project, TxDOT says an additional 13 acres of new ROW will be required. Final designs are out, and offers letter are currently being sent to affected landowners. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2022.

FM 529 in Harris and Waller Counties

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is proposing to widen FM 529 from SH 99 to FM 362 in Harris and Waller Counties. The proposed project involves widening the two-land roadway to a six-lane roadway with four-foot outside shoulders and open ditches. The improvements would require approximately 109 acres of additional right-of-way (ROW) and stretch 12.2 miles in length.  This project could potentially displace one commercial business and one non-residential structure while also affecting several other properties with smaller takings. TxDOT has held two public meetings to gather input of the public on this roadway issue. ROW acquisition and construction is estimated to begin within the next two years.