Red Line Parkway Initiative Input on I-35 Capital Express Central DEIS

March 7th, 2023

Tommy Abrego, P.E.
I-35 Program Manager
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)
P.O. Box 15426
Austin, Texas 78761-5426

Mr. Abrego,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on the I-35 Capital Express Central Project during the public hearing for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. We request the following be incorporated into TxDOT’s I-35 Capital Express Central Project before it moves forward. We will have further input in the future regarding the project as it continues to be developed.


The Red Line Parkway Initiative (RLPI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2017 that empowers diverse communities to enjoy, develop, and enhance the Red Line Trail and Parkway corridor to serve Central Texas mobility, recreation, parks, arts, affordability, social equity, physical & mental health, public space, and economic needs.

The Red Line Parkway is a proposed linear park and public space along the planned Red Line Trail, extending 32+ miles from Downtown Austin to Leander. Our vision is a thriving, inclusive, multi-functional parkway that provides convenient, enjoyable, car-free access to transit, parks, public art, and other urban, suburban, and rural destinations. It is poised to become an iconic & welcoming destination, creating the backbone of a metro-wide urban trail network connecting Austin metro’s urban centers.

We are working closely with local jurisdictions to plan, fund, implement, and activate the Parkway. The Red Line Trail and the concurrent Lance Armstrong Bikeway, which provide the trail component of the Parkway, are part of the Austin Urban Trails Plan and Capital Metro’s 2007 Rails-with-Trails Study. In 2004, voters of the Capital Metro service area supported the Red Line Trail, specifically providing some railway right-of-way for the trail.

The segment of the Red Line Parkway that crosses I-35 near 4th St. is concurrent with the Lance Armstrong Bikeway. Pre-pandemic, the segment typically carried 3,000-4,000 people each day. The segment of the Parkway that will cross I-35 near 43rd St. is not yet in place. Once the 32+ mile Parkway is completed, we project 10,000 users each day at both of these I-35 crossings, based on completed trails in cities with similar activity areas.

The Parkway is interlinked with the I-35 Central corridor at the two intersections with I-35, i.e. at 4th St. and near 43rd St., but also in how people will access origins & destinations using both the Parkway and the I-35 corridor. As a result, the quality of pedestrian, bicycling, and transit experiences along the entire I-35 Central corridor are critical to the Parkway.

Follow-up on previous requests

We very much appreciate the inclusion of car-free crossings for both of the Red Line Parkway crossings of I-35: next to 4th St. and near 43rd St. TxDOT’s currently proposed designs (Alternatives 2 & 3) show shared-use paths that travel over both the controlled access lanes and the frontage road lanes at both locations. This will benefit those traveling on foot, by wheelchair, by bicycle, and by motor vehicle, as well as improve the safety of rail operations and passengers. We believe that on this aspect, TxDOT listened, understood, and responded. Though the proposed design in the current schematics for these two crossings still needs work, we welcome opportunities to work with TxDOT and its partners to refine the design of these crossings.

We appreciate the effort made for pedestrian and bicycle connectivity through the Airport Blvd. and I-35 frontage road intersection—this has not gone unnoticed. There are certainly good aspects of the active transportation components proposed here, but these good aspects are within the context of the intersection’s suburban or rural style intersection design. This intersection exists solidly in an urban area and the surface level experience and design should be instead designed for an urban context. A SPUI (single-point urban interchange) design is generally not a good fit for an urban environment, which is demonstrated by the difficulty in including safe pedestrian and bicycle access through the intersection (as a SPUI). We welcome opportunities to work with TxDOT and its partners to reshape and refine the design of this intersection.

Throughout the geographic scope of this project, we should anticipate moderate or high pedestrian volumes. To prepare for that eventuality, the walkways and bikeways should be separated, i.e. providing shared-use paths is not the appropriate facility here. (This applies both to paths along I-35 and paths crossing I-35.) We understand that constrained right-of-way considerations may provide pressures to fall back to a shared-use path design. However, since this is an urban context and the highway is a secondary need in this context and not among the primary needs, TxDOT should first look at reducing motor vehicle lane widths and number of lanes if there is a perceived lack of space to provide separate walkway and bikeway paths.

TxDOT states that it pursues “context sensitive design”, which in this case would presumably be consistent with City of Austin design. If the frontage roads were City of Austin roadways, the City would classify them as Level 4 in their Transportation Criteria Manual (TCM), which calls for separating the walkways and bikeways. However, the City of Austin and TxDOT had previously settled on a compromise design for TxDOT frontage roads (as a subset of Level 4 streets), as specified in Section of the City of Austin’s Transportation Criteria Manual. These criteria call for a 12-foot shared-use path, with a 10-foot tree and furniture zone between the car lanes and bike/pedestrian lanes. If TxDOT does not provide the separate bikeways and walkways as requested in the paragraph above, we ask that they at least provide this special Section TCM cross section.

Street trees should be provided along every surface roadway edge to provide shade for people walking or bicycling, to reduce urban heat island effect, to provide a physical buffer and barrier between motor vehicles traveling over 20 mph and those bicycling or walking, and for various other valued-added benefits.

Overall, we concur with nearby residents and many Austin leaders that the resulting roadway should be no wider and no higher than it is currently. The current proposal (Alternatives 2 and 3) both propose eliminating a consequential amount of Austin, including demolition of residences and businesses.

Other better options should remain on the table: Rethink35 offers a context-sensitive roadway proposal. Reconnect Austin offers a compromise solution that provides a context-sensitive roadway design on the surface while providing the option for a highway expansion sought by others to facilitate rural real estate development.

The proposed increase in the number of lanes is not adequately justified or explained, given the financial, community, and global costs of such an expansion. We and others have asked many questions related to the projections and modeling, including asking for explanations of clearly erroneous projections, and have not heard direct responses to these questions. A well-functioning community engagement effort would include ample opportunity for such questions and for the project sponsor to adequately answer such relevant questions in a timely manner, if not in a realtime conversation.

The proposed analysis of the “community alternatives” contains faulty premises and was hastily completed. Again, for such an enormous and lasting project, it is critical for these alternatives to be adequately understood (by TxDOT), adequately analyzed, and adequately & appropriately implemented. The traffic modeling provided for the “community alternatives” simultaneously assumes that I-35 will expand and that it will not be fully expanded—that is nonsensical. For further detail on this critique, we suggest reviewing rebuttals provided by others, including Farm&City, Reconnect Austin, and Rethink35.

We believe that there are opportunities to work toward a Reconnect Austin configuration within the paradigm of the build alternatives, and that TxDOT should continue to work with various partners and stakeholders to fully explore opportunities for implementing the Reconnect Austin vision throughout the project corridor. For example, TxDOT should decrease the frequency of entrance and exit ramps and instead prioritize the urban level environment by providing more street crossings and by providing more developable land (recovered from highway space), or TxDOT could make more use of portal ramps that reduce the need to stack ramps over other lanes.

Though TxDOT and/or the State of Texas are presenting the large-picture aspects of this project as a take-it-or-leave it opportunity (i.e., providing build alternatives centered on non-local needs and providing a no-build alternative), we still welcome continued opportunities to collaborate on this project. In our previous letters, we requested that TxDOT work with the Our Future 35 group to co-create this project, and though TxDOT has not explicitly said ‘no’ to Our Future 35’s request, we recognize that TxDOT and/or the State of Texas essentially ignored their request, co-opted their language, and are not yet ready to pursue that level of listening, understanding, and collaborating with the local and most affected communities.

Further requests

We have the following further requests:

  1. None of the proposed build alternatives should be advanced to the next stage. Concerns regarding the proposed build alternatives:
    1. They include too many highway lanes for an urban core environment. Preferably no additional lanes are added—managed lanes, mainlanes, collector-distributor lanes, or service road lanes.
    2. There should be no elevated sections or flyovers, except perhaps flyovers at the interchanges with US 290 East and with US 290 West, to be commensurate with the existing flyovers.
    3. Highway managed lanes or mainlanes should generally not be exposed to the surface.
    4. Any alternative that includes controlled access lanes (i.e. any configuration other than a highway-to-boulevard conversation) should either cap those lanes or provide an adequate structure (included and paid for as part of the project) such that they can be capped in the future.
  2. Notable alternatives should be advanced to the next study stage. These include:
    1. The Reconnect Austin configuration, described in general terms at
    2. The highway-to-boulevard conversion configuration, described in general terms at
    3. Redesignating I-35 to another local highway corridor, e.g. Loop 1, US 183, or SH 130.

These alternatives should be transparently evaluated alongside other project alternatives, based on the project’s Purpose and Need, other values described in the above input on the draft Purpose and Need, any other of TxDOT’s stated or previously unstated interests, and other prominently stated community interests, including equity, economic, environmental, mobility, and land use interests. These alternatives should be evaluated for the entire length of the project corridor. If the value of a configuration is significantly improved by including it for only a portion of the project corridor, then that configuration as a subset of the corridor should be presented as an additional project alternative. Though a given alternative may not be considered viable within TxDOT’s paradigm, it is critical that it is publicly and transparently evaluated so that all parties can fully understand the context among both preferred and nonpreferred alternatives.

  1. The project does not include adequate mitigation for its negative impacts. Both build alternatives would have an enormous negative impact on Austin and the Austin metro, including widening the highway and destroying significant portions of the city, creating a wider barriers in the core of the city, adding air pollution and noise pollution, adding more motor vehicle traffic to city streets, requiring longer (both distance and time) commutes for more people, increasing serious injuries and fatalities by increasing trip speeds and distances, and adding more transportation costs to households by creating more car dependency. The proposed mitigation is woefully inadequate:
    1. The highway lanes should be below grade and capped either with buildings or with the frontage road lanes (i.e. as with Reconnect Austin) throughout the project. This mitigation is not included and paid for within the project but should be. It is the project that is creating the negative impacts, and therefore the project should include that requisite mitigation (including caps, stitches, and supports) within its scope and budget.
    2. The shared-use paths proposed along the corridor constitute sub-par ped-bike accommodations. I.e., the project is not even providing requisite ped-bike accommodations along the corridor, let alone providing mitigation. To mitigate the negative impacts of this project on nearby and metrowide walking and bicycling, the project should include at least $500MM of pedestrian and bicycling accommodations in addition to corridor accommodations. For example, the I-394 expansion in Minneapolis included construction funding for the parallel Cedar Lake Trail. The $500MM of I-35 mitigation funding could provide funding for construction of the Red Line Parkway, Shoal Creek Trail, Walnut Creek Trail, and other walkway and bikeway projects off of the I-35 corridor
    3. The project will add many motor vehicles trips (not counted or measured in the DEIS) to local streets, which will create additional expenses for the City of Austin and other localities. These maintenance and street upgrade expenses should also be paid for as part of the project, i.e., as mitigation.
    4. The project should include a mitigation fund to provide compensation for victims and survivors of additional traffic victims resulting from the projects’ additional vehicle miles traveled. These would include direct checks to victims and survivors, additional ICU units and hospital beds, EMS vehicles, and others who are negatively financially impacted by serious injury and fatality crashes.
  2. TxDOT should pursue its own funding sources for any project caps, stitches, and supports for those caps or stitches. This is a TxDOT project and the City of Austin should not pay to cover up the highway’s mess.
  3. We request that all future public input periods provide at least 90 days for public comment in order to allow for the degree of public input that is commensurate with a project of this scale. This will help facilitate conversation among stakeholders to help provide consensus on project parameters.
  4. The information provided for this project thus far (and for most or all TxDOT projects) is not adequate for the public to understand the project, its context, and how to meaningfully provide input from an informed position. For a genuine NEPA process, it is essential to proactively educate the public about the project so that all impacts of design & engineering decisions and build alternatives (including prominently requested alternatives not included by TxDOT for consideration) are known and understood by the public. TxDOT should publicly describe previously unstated motivations for each of the project alternatives, for why some alternatives are considered and others are not, and for more specific design choices, e.g. locations of entrances and crossings, and cross-section widths for paths.
  5. The project should be codesigned with the local community, and include Our Future 35 community alternatives (, the Reconnect Austin recommendations (, the Rethink35 recommendations (, and the Downtown Austin Alliance ULI study recommendations (February 2020)—even in pre-engineering phases—as part of the full Environmental Impact Statement.
  6. Include car-free connectivity across I-35, i.e. pedestrian, bicycling, trail, and transit connections across I-35 that do not encounter mainlane or service road traffic. This includes:
    1. All I-35 roadway lanes, including both mainlanes and service road lanes, should go below the Red Line Parkway at both Red Line crossings, which are next to 4th St. and near 43rd St. Each of these crossings are expected to have 10,000 pedestrian & bicyclist crossings each day, based on trail volume on existing similar trails. This is included in the two current build proposals, and should be carried forward in any proposed build proposal.
    2. The Airport Blvd. & I-35 intersection design should take into consideration a future Hancock transit station for the Gold Line and/or the Red Line by creating a superior pedestrian and bicycling crossing, including putting both the I-35 mainlanes and the intersection of Airport Blvd. & I-35 service road underground and providing plaza, park, and building opportunities on the surface. Any configuration should provide for direct, safe pedestrian and bicycle connections across this intersection.
    3. The Ann & Roy Butler Trail on both the north and south edges of Lady Bird Lake should continue to have car-free connectivity across I-35 and its service roads.
    4. The future Bergstrom Spur trail and transit corridor, immediately south of SH 71 / Ben White, should be provided with car-free connectivity for pedestrians, bicycling, and transit users across I-35 and its service roads.
    5. The Tannehill Branch, a creek that crosses I-35 between 51st St. and US 290 West, should be daylighted and include a car-free pedestrian and bicycling creekside trail connection across I-35 and its service roads.
  7. Provide alternatives that preserve all existing street crossings, plus restore or create new east-west street crossings, including, but not limited to:
    • 46th St. to Bentwood Rd.,
    • 41st St. to Wilshire Blvd. (swap with current Hancock Center crossing),
    • Concordia Ave.,
    • 9th St.,
    • 8th St. (preserve),
    • 5th St.,
    • 3rd St.,
    • 2nd St.,
    • Driskill St. to Willow St.,
    • Holly St.,
    • East Ave. (an existing crossing just north of the Colorado River),
    • Reagan Terrace,
    • Taylor Gaines St.,
    • Woodland Ave. (preserve),
    • Mariposa Dr., and
    • Other potential crossings north of 46th St. and south of Mariposa Dr.
  8. Provide alternatives that maximize the opportunity to put all highway lanes, if any, below the ground, i.e. similar to what TxDOT’s previously proposed Alternative 1 suggested.
  9. Provide alternatives that do not add motor vehicle lanes, other than lanes exclusively for public mass transit and emergency vehicles.
  10. Rectify longstanding disproportionate racial and economic impacts exacerbated by the original construction of I-35. The project must help rectify past impacts to Austin’s People of Color that resulted from its original construction, and not repeat the same mistakes. The project should include mitigation funding for both I-35’s past impacts and this project’s new impacts.
  11. Facilitate economic sustainability & resiliency in alignment with equitable outcomes. Create walkable, mixed-use, and equitable transit-oriented development along I-35. Close socioeconomic gaps between communities and stop or mitigate displacement. In collaboration with the public, evaluate the benefits that could result from making new land made available for housing, businesses, parks, and other local community needs as a result of shrinking the surface footprint of the roadway lanes. Conduct a full equity impact analysis for this corridor and nearby communities.
  12. Reduce the footprint of the project and fully evaluate and mitigate its environmental and community well-being impacts, from the local scale to the global scale. This includes physical and mental health impacts such as nature-deficit disorder, respiratory disorders, premature death, access to schools and healthcare, and traffic violence. This evaluation should also include air and water quality, noise pollution, impacts to wildlife & endangered species, loss of parkland, access to parkland, loss of farmable land, climate change, heat island effect, and drainage & flooding impacts resulting from the project. The project should provide mitigation funding for these impacts, including debts owed to future generations to reverse these negative impacts.
  13. Ensure that the project is in compliance with existing local plans, including but not limited to plans of the City of Austin and Capital Metro. The public has already approved plans by the City of Austin and other local government entities, such as the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP) and the voter-approved Project Connect, among others. TxDOT should help accomplish those plans. TxDOT and NEPA evaluators should not rely solely on the local jurisdictions to voice concerns about compliance with their respective jurisdictions’ plans, but rather TxDOT and NEPA evaluators should publicly cite any noncompliance with those plans, and then include solutions to bring their I-35 project plan into compliance.
  14. Please incorporate February 21st, 2023 recommendations from the Austin Pedestrian Advisory Council and Austin Bicycle Advisory Council. For reference:
  15. We support many of the recommendations and concur with concerns from the North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition, including capping the highway lanes (e.g. as requested by the Cherrywood Neighborhood Association) and significantly improving the pedestrian and bicycle access through the Airport Blvd. & I-35 intersection.
  16. We also support many of the recommendations from the Austin City Council February 23rd, 2023 resolution, and from the Travis County Commissioners Court February 28th, 2023 resolution, especially stating the need for more street crossings and more capping to be included as part of the project.
  17. We recognize, as others do, that the proposed expansion would make local air quality worse, would have significant negative health impacts, and that this has not been adequately acknowledged or evaluated in the DEIS. The DEIS analysis is inadequate for PM 2.5, PM 10, NOx, ozone precursors, and VOCs pollution.
  18. The greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis should acknowledge and address the additional GHG produced not just as a result of construction, but also for the additional motor vehicle miles traveled as a result of the expansion.
  19. The reduced motor vehicle capacity and the resulting disruptions due to construction of the project should be quantified. These should also be compared to the temporary traffic relief provided by the expansion, which is expected to vanish some years after completion of the project.
  20. Area of Influence (AOI): The AOI in the draft DEIS currently includes an area of only a couple miles surrounding the project itself. In reality, the project will impact regional transportation and regional development. The AOI should be roughly 60 miles north-to-south and 40 miles east-to-west. TxDOT can reference CAMPO’s analysis for trips between TAZs (traffic analysis zones).
  21. As a participant in the Our Future 35 Scoping Working Group, which was centered on East Austin People of Color leaders, we re-share the December 14th, 2020 priorities, which TxDOT has generally not incorporated into the project or responded to:
    1. Rectify longstanding disproportionate racial and economic impacts exacerbated by the original construction of I-35. This Project must help rectify past impacts to Austin’s People of Color that resulted from its original construction, and not repeat the same mistakes again.
      • Document and preserve the historic and cultural fabric of the community – including land, businesses, civic spaces, and housing with historic ties. Preservation is critical to avoiding the mistakes of the past.
      • Mitigate long-standing disproportionate impacts by providing new or reclaimed lands (either as caps and/or repurposed right of way) for community uses that would be defined by a local, community driven process.
      • Conduct an equity assessment as part of the NEPA process.
      • Conduct a human health and well-being impact analysis as part of the NEPA process that documents both existing and future impacts to physical and mental health (inclusive of our elderly, youth, and health vulnerable populations).
      • Create a proactive plan to ensure the care of those currently experiencing homelessness near the Project.
      • Advance an alternative that enables the safe physical reconnection of communities at street or surface level, without further displacement; and one that prioritizes the right of communities of color to remain, return, and reside near the Project.
      • Create all necessary solutions to ensure that People of Color (residents, businesses, institutions, organizations) are not further impacted by the construction of I-35. This includes mitigating the temporary loss of access for businesses and the loss of access to cultural institutions, educational institutions, parkland, greenspaces along our waterfront, cultural institutions, or other community amenities that result from the construction process.
      • We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past in the North and South Projects.
    2. Prioritize safe local access and connectivity to, along, and across the I-35 corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, the disabled, the elderly, health vulnerable, youth, students of all ages, and individuals who are experiencing homelessness. 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.
      • Enable all surface roads are designed as part of the city street network, providing both east-west and north-south access for all ages and abilities with separate facilities for bicycle and pedestrian mobility; mitigate traffic spillover into adjacent neighborhoods and communities.
      • Study an alternative with a more narrow footprint.
      • Coordinate transit planning with the City of Austin and Austin Transit Partnership. Provide for optimal transit access to and from the Project, as well as enabling enhanced transit operability at the surface level.
      • Design the Project to minimize fatalities and injuries within the project limits for all transportation users.
      • Use microsimulation tools to study and evaluate local traffic as part of the traffic modeling.
    3. Co-design the Project with the community and include Our Future 35 community alternatives and the Downtown Austin Alliance ULI study recommendations—even in pre-engineering phases—as part of the full Environmental Impact Statement.
    4. Shrink the footprint of the Project and fully evaluate and mitigate its environmental and community well-being impacts. This includes physical and mental health impacts such as nature-deficit disorder, respiratory disorders, premature death, access to schools and healthcare. It also includes air and water quality, noise pollution, impacts to wildlife/endangered species, loss of parkland, access to parkland, loss of farmable land, climate change, heat island effect, and drainage/flooding impacts resulting from the Project.
      • Create transparent reporting of methodologies, measurements, and analysis of impacts.
      • Design the Project in a way that can absorb the impacts of air, water and noise pollution, and help mitigate flooding; this can also result in multi-purpose and active public spaces that are safe, comfortable and inviting for surrounding communities and their families.
      • Design to reduce vehicle miles traveled (or VMT) along the Project, which allows for the consideration of a variety of strategies to reduce transportation impacts on air quality and noise pollution.
    5. 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.
      • Provide interim reports related to traffic modeling, climate change modeling, alternative designs, engagement outcomes, and other assessments.

Thank you for considering these requests. We also look forward to continuing to work with TxDOT staff on these and other improvements to the project proposals and processes.

Tom Wald
Executive Director