HNA – Letter To TxDOT 09/21

Marc. D. Williams
Executive Director
TxDOT
125 East 11th Street
Austin, Texas 78701-2483

Tucker Ferguson, PE
Austin District Engineer
TxDOT
P.O. Box 15426
Austin, Texas 78761-5425

Susan Fraser, PE, CFM
I-35 Program Manager
TxDOT
P.O. Box 15426
Austin, Texas 78761-5426

I-35 Capital Express Central Project
Attn: Project Team
7901 N. I-35
Austin, TX 78753

September 24, 2021

Dear Mr. Williams, Mr. Ferguson, and Ms. Fraser,
and dear I-35 Capital Express Central Project Team,

The Hancock neighborhood spans the area between 32nd and 45th streets immediately west of I-35, and the Association serves to represent the interests of more than 2,000 central Austin households, i.e. around 6,000 residents, according to our estimates. On September 15, the Hancock Neighborhood Association unanimously voted to adopt the following statement regarding the Capital Express Central project:

The Hancock Neighborhood Association opposes TxDOT’s current plans for the I-35 Capital Express Central project. The schematics provided on August 10, 2021, reflect TxDOT’s insufficient attention to community feedback and represent unnecessary harm to north central neighborhoods.

Expanding I-35 to 20 – and in some areas 22 – lanes will induce thousands of additional vehicle trips per day through central Austin, offsetting potential gains in traffic safety, increasing emissions and noise pollution, degrading air quality, exacerbating health conditions, likely contributing to further neighborhood traffic congestion, and obstructing Austin’s Community Climate Plan target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. All this for an expansion that will not relieve congestion, as stated by TxDOT’s own District Engineer Tucker Ferguson in a presentation to Austin City Council on August 31.

We find these plans to be indefensible in light of the already unfolding climate crisis, which requires that we all think more carefully and creatively about how we travel. We also find them to be outdated, as they do not sufficiently take into account – let alone strategically integrate – the Project Connect plans for extensive light rail service and additional bus service that will reduce Austinites’ need for vehicle trips.

We do applaud TxDOT’s intent to remove the upper decks, which bring noise into the entirety of our neighborhood and exacerbate the division between Hancock and our eastside neighbors in Cherrywood, Wilshire Woods, Mueller, and East Austin. We also applaud TxDOT’s openness to reconnecting downtown with a cap and stitch plan and adding pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

However, with only two “stitches” between US 290 East and MLK Blvd, and no definite plans for any “caps” in this 3.5-mile stretch, north central neighborhoods like ours will disproportionately bear the considerable negative outcomes of an expansion of I-35. It is already exceedingly difficult and dangerous for us to travel east to Cherrywood or Mueller on foot or by bicycle. We can only imagine the additional challenges posed by a 20-lane thoroughfare, including up to 4-lane frontage roads, no matter the particular design. What is more, the overwhelming majority of up to 147 displacements and 32 acres of right-of-way required for Alternatives 2 and 3 are located in north central neighborhoods, including Hancock.

In 2020, Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Bruce Bugg vowed that plans for I-35 in central Austin would be “no wider and no higher.” With its dismissal of community alternatives and the removal of Alternative 1 from study – the only alternative that approached this claim – before the public was able to comment on it, TxDOT has not kept this promise.

Furthermore, TxDOT’s Alternatives 2 and 3 are practically identical, leaving no opportunity for the community to participate in the project in a meaningful way. North central neighborhoods affected by this proposed expansion deserve a direct, open dialogue with TxDOT to develop a reasonable alternative that produces positive impacts for the people living and working along the I-35 corridor, now and in the future.

We therefore join other north central neighborhoods in rejecting TxDOT’s current plans. We would like to engage with TxDOT to identify solutions that balance TxDOT’s mandate to move traffic with our neighborhoods’ needs to breathe clean air, travel safely on foot and by bicycle, and keep our homes and businesses from being demolished to make room for an even larger highway.

We ask TxDOT to heed our concerns and design an I-35 corridor that:

  1. truly connects us, instead of dividing us further;
  2. preserves the integrity of our neighborhoods, instead of uprooting businesses and families;
  3. reduces I-35’s footprint, if anything, instead of expanding it further;
  4. works hand in hand with Project Connect, helping reduce traffic and pollution, instead of increasing them further;
  5. serves the needs, health, and safety of all Austinites engaged in all modes of transportation, of this and many future generations, instead of doubling down on the mistakes of the past.

Sincerely,

Hannes Mandel, Robyn Ross, and Kitten Holloway (Hancock Neighborhood Transportation Committee, on behalf of the Hancock Neighborhood Association)

CC: Texas Senator Sarah Eckhardt
Texas Representative Gina Hinojosa
Austin Mayor Steve Adler
Austin City Council District 9 Kathie Tovo
Austin City Council Members