At our September meeting, NCINC2 delegates voted to approve a letter to TxDOT as our official response to the Mobility35 NEPA public input period for the Central 7-Mile Comprehensive Project that includes IH35 through north central Austin.
NCINC2 opposes the Modified Existing option for IH35 through downtown and conditionally supports the Lowered option; however, we continue to have concerns about the process and design concepts related to the north central “decks” area and how the Project falls short of aligning with the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, Neighborhood Plans, Corridor Plans and other City of Austin initiatives and goals.
The full PDF letter is available here and below:
On June 18, 2016, the North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition 2 (NCINC2) heard a presentation from TxDOT consultants outlining the NEPA process and timeline and two build options—Modified Existing and Lowered—currently under study for the Mobility35 Central 7-mile Comprehensive Project (the “Project”).
NCINC2 actively opposes any option that would include an elevated urban freeway such as that proposed in the Modified Existing option. We support lowering IH35 main lanes through downtown to accommodate future capping of the main lanes, repair east-west connectivity across the corridor, provide improved access, safety and comfort for pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists and include clearances sufficient to not preclude future commuter rail along the corridor.
However, our full support of the Lowered option remains conditioned on the recognition and resolution of concerns of our organization and Member Neighborhoods that remain unaddressed by TxDOT and its consultants. We ask that TxDOT immediately begin work with the City of Austin to take the following actions to properly address these concerns:
- Align the Project with Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, Neighborhood Plans and Corridor Plans. The Project should clearly reference Imagine Austin and Neighborhood Plan priority programs, goals and action items as well as City initiatives like the African American Quality of Life Initiative and existing corridor plans such as the Airport Boulevard Corridor plan, and eliminate conflicts with these local efforts. Imagine Austin principles of a Healthy, Sustainable and Compact & Connected City should guide the Project, specifically regarding pedestrian and bicycle access, east-west connectivity, residential and commercial development and the effects of noise and air pollution on human health and quality of life.
- Provide a comprehensive, long-term vision for the IH35 corridor. TxDOT should comprehensively address the highway system through Austin’s urban core in a holistic manner that verifiably measures issues of access, equity, human health, quality of life and economic development in addition to congestion, capacity and mobility. We ask the Austin District to use an approach similar to that of the 2016 CityMAP report from the Dallas District for a long-range vision for the IH35 corridor, including measuring the indices that would quantify the social, environmental and economic benefits of the removal of the upper decks and lowering main lanes through 51st Street
- Initiate a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Project. Given the concentration of residential populations along the Project and the proximity to the Boggy Creek and Waller Creek urban watersheds, the Project should require a more stringent review process than the current Environmental Assessment. The EIS should quantify human health impacts due to exposure to particulate matter and pollutants including premature deaths, cardiovascular disease, asthma and any other known health conditions associated with proximity to freeways.
- Ensure that the public input process meaningfully engages north central stakeholders. Finally, we reiterate our request and that of the City of Austin for TxDOT to convene a true I-35 North Central Stakeholder Working Group, which should include representatives of affected Neighborhood Associations, businesses, institutions along with City officials and should submit a report of design recommendations similar to that produced by the 2014 I-35 Downtown Stakeholder Working Group.
As representatives of Member Neighborhoods to NCINC2, we endeavor to be active, informed, open-minded and critical when necessary to ensure that TxDOT and its consultants—along with our regional transportation planning authorities—conceive of a future for IH35 that supports the City of Austin and the health, well-being and mobility of its residents. We hereby formally oppose the Modified Existing option and conditionally support the Lowered option, asking that TxDOT and City leadership work together on the actions outlined above to build a comprehensive, community-driven vision for the future of the IH35 corridor through Central Austin.