Chair’s Report, March 2017

Greetings all,

I am writing to share an update on the work the North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition 2 has done over the past year on behalf of its eleven member neighborhoods.

While we may never know the reaches of our work as a group, our involvement has come at a critical time for the future of IH35 and its surrounding neighborhoods.

This Fall, TxDOT began what is expected to be a two-year NEPA environmental study which will determine, among other things, whether the agency will move forward with a lowered (“depressed”) or elevated (“modified existing) option for downtown between Cesar Chavez and 15th Steets.  In September, NCINC2 formally responded during the NEPA public input period.

Meanwhile, several of our neighborhoods took the initiative to convene inter-neighborhood working groups focusing on specific pieces of the TxDOT Plans.  In October, the Delwood II, Mueller and Wilshire Wood/Delwood I neighborhoods penned a joint letter to TxDOT asking for considerations for access, safety, noise reduction, connectivity and human health at and around the intersection of IH35 and Airport Boulevard.

As a City, Austin supported a bond proposition last November to put $720 million into mobility infrastructure–ranging from Vision Zero, sidewalks, bicycle provisions and safe routes to schools to corridors and highway infrastructure. The City committed $46 million to area highway interchanges.

Last week, TxDOT approved its 2017 program, which includes $620 million for IH35, Loop 260 and US 183, on top of the City’s commitment.  Two days later, a section of elevated I-85 in downtown Atlanta collapsed from a fire set underneath it.

Even as construction ensues on US 183, which is to become a 12-lane behemoth that will limit crossings and all but ensure a continuation of environmental injustice in East Austin, we are reckoning with a reality that this infrastructure is socially and economically burdensome, expensive to maintain and it is failing.

TxDOT does not have a vision for IH35 through the Upper Decks.  We are asking for that vision.

After much discussion this year about NCINC2’s future role, we have decided to retain our original Mission of engaging the community, informing neighborhoods, promoting east-west connectivity, exploring viable alternatives and communicating with neighbors, stakeholders and elected officials.

NCINC2 will continue to be a voice of its eleven member neighborhoods, whom we ask to elect delegates to NCINC2 and to allow those delegates to vote on behalf of the best interests of the Member Neighborhood as they determine appropriate and necessary.

And after my two years at the helm of NCINC2 it is time for new leadership, and with this Report I am hereby stepping down as Chair of the group in accordance with our By-Laws.  I want to thank Mateo Barnstone and Marty Hood, who have served as Vice Chair and Secretary, respectively, for the last two years and whose terms are also expiring.  We could not do our work without their tireless efforts, nor those efforts of the committed representatives who have attended our meetings.

Until such a time as a new Chair is nominated, I will support the organizational capacity in an interim role, and will be happy to be a Vice-Chair to help new leadership in the coming year.  I hope that many receiving this email will consider lending their skills and time to the effort.

I want to conclude with a call to action.  We worked very hard this year on defining forward-thinking, goal-oriented strategies for this group, which I believe are worth sharing here and which I hope will serve for all and our continued, thoughtful advocacy.

These are the ways we can realize a better, multimodal IH35 corridor from Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to US 183–including a comprehensive vision for its long-term future:

  • Define a vision for the corridor that includes greater East/West connectivity, safe and comfortable passage for all modes of users (pedestrians, transit, bicycles and vehicles), viable transportation alternatives and alternative routes, designs and alignments;
  • Advocate to elected officials for increased City of Austin planning of the corridor and greater awareness of the concerns of North Central neighborhoods, businesses and institutions;
  • Engage with state and local agencies including TxDOT and its contractors, the City of Austin, Travis County, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA);
  • Inform and educate residents of North Central neighborhoods about our goals, proposed plans for the corridor, milestones and potential impacts to adjacent communities; and
  • Support appropriate plans for the IH35 corridor that are sufficiently vetted by local stakeholders and which advance our goals as well as those of the City, the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan and communities affected by the corridor;

I hope you will all share my thoughts here with your respective Neighborhood Associations.  Let us all continue our work together toward building an IH35 corridor that is connected, resilient and healthful for our residents, communities and future.

Yours very truly,
Brendan Wittstruck