NLNA – Letter to TxDOT 09/21

September 15, 2021

For its over 50 years of existence, I-35 has preferenced travel to and from the center of Austin at the expense of isolating neighborhoods east to west. Rebuilding a highway of this scale represents a massive investment of time and tax dollars, and we had hoped that the new design of I-35 would aspire to address the failings of the past and seek to heal this wound in our city fabric. As the residents of the North Loop Neighborhood of North Central Austin, we grow concerned that the current build Alternatives 2 and 3 represent solutions which would radically reduce our quality of life and reinforce and expand the physical divide between us and our neighbors to the east.

I-35 is part of our neighborhood and traveling on or along I-35 is a daily reality for residents of North Loop and Ridgetop and other neighborhoods throughout North Central Austin. As a matter of both safety and livability, our neighborhood is in desperate need of a version of I-35 that improves accessibility and allows for safe crossings where people need them. We believe that limiting the scale of I-35 to its current ROW and increasing the amount of safe bicycle and pedestrian crossings through North Central Austin best realizes that goal. We are willing to work with TXDOT as some of the stakeholders most personally and directly impacted by this project and hope and trust that this feedback will be seriously and thoughtfully considered before TXDOT takes further steps on an alternative that does not adequately address these concerns.

As the Austin City Manager’s office has recognized, the I-35 replacement project represents “a multi- generational opportunity to improve the long-term mobility and safety of our region; an opportunity to rejoin people and places previously separated by the corridor; and an opportunity to benefit the economic, equity, and quality-of-life outcomes for the residents of Central Texas.” However, the current build alternatives for North Central Austin do not appear to advance these goals and are potentially counterproductive to these goals in critical ways.

As we view them, the current build alternatives contemplating an expansion of I-35 and rejecting the concept of a “cap and stitch” through North Central Austin as is proposed for Downtown will likely serve to negatively impact safety and will reinforce barriers between us and our neighbors to the east. Under any of these alternatives, Downtown will be better connected with heavily gentrified Central East Austin, while working class neighborhoods such as St. John’s will be further isolated from its North Central neighbors. At the same time, North Central neighborhood businesses and institutions along I-35 will pay the price, as their property is condemned to accomplish the expansion. We do not believe that this result will benefit the “economic, equity, and quality-of-life outcomes” for our neighborhood and therefore urge TXDOT to evaluate other reasonable alternatives for the replacement project, such as the North Central Austin “cap and stitch” previously recognized as a viable alternative by TXDOT.

We are hopeful and optimistic that TXDOT will ultimately identify a build alternative that serves to increase mobility through the North Central stretch of I-35 while advancing the three goals identified by the City and supported by our neighborhood. We are also hopeful that, pending identification of such an alternative, it will not proceed with a build that runs counter to these goals.

Thank you,

North Loop Neighborhood Association