Evolve Austin Coalition – Letter to TxDOT 12/20

December 30th, 2020
James M. Bass
Executive Director
Texas Department of Transportation
125 East 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78701

RE: I-35 Capital Express Central Progress – Public Scoping Period #1

Dear Director Bass,

Evolve Austin is a non-profit coalition representing a diverse ecosystem of civic-minded partner organizations dedicated to moving the City of Austin forward in the seven priority areas identified in the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan, including transportation and land use; household affordability and neighborhoods; economic growth and workforce development; social equity; sustainable resource management; parks, public health, and City services; and creative economy and culture.

The I-35 Capital Express Central Project brings an opportunity to advance these priority areas and the comprehensive plan’s vision for a Compact and Connected Austin. I-35 is an indelible divide across the center of the city–a physical and psychological barrier that disconnects neighborhoods; impairs safe and equitable access to, along, and across the corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, people with disabilities, the elderly, health-vulnerable, and children; an inhospitable refuge for people enduring homelessness; and a visible symbol of Austin’s continuing struggle with its own history of segregation and prejudice.

Evolve Austin supports the Our Future 35 “Five Desired Outcomes”. We request that TxDOT amend the Project Purpose and Need to include quantifiable metrics to address the following community priorities before the project advances to the next step of the NEPA process:

  1. Address long-standing disproportionate racial and economic impacts exacerbated by the original construction of I-35 by assessing past trauma on communities of color and directly engaging with East Austin leaders on proposed designs.
  2. Prioritize safe local access and connectivity to, along, and across the I-35 corridor for users of all ages, abilities, identities, and modes of travel. Specifically, the Project should ensure that all existing crossings have full facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and persons with disabilities and should provide new crossings where feasible with a minimum standard of no greater than 1⁄2 mile between crossings.
  3. Create a safe, local street network at surface level to ensure that all people driving cars and all vulnerable road users can safely and efficiently get around. Specifically, frontage roads at surface level should meet the design speeds and speed limits of Urban Core Arterials and Downtown Streets, according to the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, and support the City’s Vision Zero goal.
  4. Co-design the Project with the community and include Our Future 35 community alternatives such as Reconnect Austin, the Rethink 35 boulevard concept, and the Downtown Austin Alliance ULI study recommendations—even in pre-engineering phases—as part of the full Environmental Impact Statement.
  5. Minimize the physical footprint of the Project and fully evaluate and mitigate its environmental and community well-being impacts. Specifically, this includes physical and mental health impacts such as nature-deficit disorder, respiratory disorders, premature death; access to schools and healthcare; air and water quality, noise pollution; impacts to wildlife/endangered species, loss of parkland, access to parkland; preservation of historical and cultural resources; and climate change, heat island effect, and drainage/flooding impacts resulting from the Project.
  6. Provide a minimum of 90 days of public comment for all future comment periods. Proactively educate everyone about the Project so that all impacts of design/ engineering decisions and build alternatives are known and understood by the community.

We appreciate your consideration of the above feedback and look forward to working with you on a successful project that enhances the environment, equity, economy, and overall quality of life in Central Austin.

Thank you.
The Evolve Austin Coalition