RLPI – Letter to TxDOT 09/21

September 24th, 2021

Susan Fraser
Mobility 35 Program Manager
Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)
Austin District
my35capex@txdot.gov

Susan,

We are providing our input for this round of input on the I-35 Capital Express Central Project. This letter expands upon the letter that we provided on August 31st, 2021.

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 design (Alternatives 2 & 3) shows 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. We welcome opportunities to work with TxDOT and its partners to 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.

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, e.g. Farm&City, Reconnect Austin, and Rethink35.

We believe that there are opportunities to work toward a Reconnect Austin configuration within the paradigm of Alternatives 2 & 3, 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).

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 are not yet ready to pursue that level of listening, understanding, and collaborating with the local and most affected communities.

While this is not the I-35 project that we would propose, we nevertheless welcome opportunities to work within TxDOT’s framework (and of course, outside of that framework) to improve the project. Please be in touch.

Tom Wald
Executive Director
tom@redlineparkway.org
512-203-7626