Scoping Issues (2020)

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We call for the following issues to be evaluated in the environmental process for the I-35 Capital Express Central Project and request that these concepts be incorporated into TxDOT’s plans during the scoping period:

1. Human and environmental health impacts, especially for nearby communities

The following impacts must be mitigated and brought to below present day levels, and within local, regional, and nationally-recommended limits and goals:

  • Air quality
  • Carbon emissions
  • Water quality
  • Flooding
  • Noise
  • Vehicular-related deaths and serious injuries

2. Economic sustainability and reducing socioeconomic and cultural inequities

Rebuilding I-35 should help create more vibrant, prosperous, and resilient communities. While creating a new design for I-35, TxDOT should simultaneously work with the City of Austin to create policies that:

  • Increase dense, walkable, mixed-use, and equitable transit-oriented development along I-35 from which people of all types of age, gender, skin color, income level, and physical ability can equally benefit and access
  • Close socioeconomic gaps between different communities through tools such as value-capture programs to harness increased revenues from improvements to I-35 to help build local wealth, enhance and protect historic and cultural resources, and prevent displacement
  • Maximize socially, economically, and environmentally-beneficial land use by evaluating how much land should be used for mobility right-of-way and how much should be used for other uses such as affordable housing, local businesses, and public space, such evaluation including the consideration of a road/highway diet and other land use measures

Furthermore, a full economic cost accounting must be conducted for all direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts identified in this scoping recommendation, including deaths and serious injuries, of the current I-35 configuration and of the various fully considered alternatives.

3. Reduce per capita Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and focus on access, not speed

Widening highways raises per capita VMT and increases pollution; climate change impacts; health impacts; deaths and serious injuries, whose costs to Texas exceed those of congestion; sprawl development; and the time taken to meet one’s needs, while worsening emergency response times. A rebuilt I-35 must reduce per capita VMT and focus on access, rather than speed/Level Of Service, as a goal. This will require TxDOT, the City of Austin, and other agencies to work together to:

  • Reduce trip times and maximize safety for all transportation modes
  • Maximize street network connectivity, including equally facilitating east-west and north-south travel, while mitigating traffic spillover into neighboring streets and communities
  • Reform land use policies, including increased density and mixed-use zoning for neighborhoods
  • Implement Travel Demand Management strategies

4. Compatibility with existing local plans and goals

Austin Strategic Mobility Plan

  • Mode split goals by 2039: 50% drive alone, 16% transit, 14% telework, 11% carpool/taxicab/other, 5% bicycle, 4% walk
  • Reduce the amount of time workers spend traveling between home and work
  • Build a transportation network that encourages social interaction
  • Promote a balanced transportation network
  • Promote economic growth for individuals and the city through strategic investments in transportation networks
  • Lower the cost of traveling in Austin by providing affordable travel options
  • Lower the risk of travel-related injury and promoting public health
  • Draw inspiration from forward-looking cities around the world, change the way we think about what’s possible, and set an example for the rest of the country

City of Austin Vision Zero goals

  • Zero annual vehicular-related deaths and serious injuries within Austin city limits

Austin Street Design Guide

  • All project elements that are not controlled access facilities should be designed as safe, multimodal facilities with target, posted, and design speeds of 35mph or less
  • NACTO guides, such as the Urban Street Design Guide, should also be used as additional design guidance for all elements of the project that are not controlled access facilities
  • All controlled access facilities should be designed with similar up to date design guidance, including the most recent AASHTO Green Book, with sufficiently low target, posted, and design speeds for a dense urban context and to allow seamless and safe integration with a safe, multimodal urban street grid

Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan

  • Public and private sectors work together to improve our air quality
  • Support public transit and a variety of transportation choices, while reducing sprawl, congestion, travel times, and negative impacts on existing neighborhoods
  • Safe bicycle and pedestrian access with well-designed routes that provide connectivity throughout the greater Austin area
  • Ensure that growth is both fiscally sound and environmentally sustainable

City of Austin Great Streets Master Plan

  • Create an environment that is safe, generous enough for multi-purpose use, and sheltered from the elements”
  • Calm traffic movement in downtown; accommodate automobile traffic to downtown and discourage traffic through downtown
  • Recognize the primacy of the grid in the downtown and optimize its use

Austin climate goals as set forth in Austin City Council Resolution 20140410-024

  • Net zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

Adopted Austin neighborhood plans

  • South Congress Combined
  • Greater South River City
  • Southeast Combined
  • East Riverside/Oltorf Combined
  • East Cesar Chavez
  • Central East Austin
  • Any other relevant neighborhood plans

5. Fully consider meaningful design alternatives that address the above issues

As NEPA sets no limits on the number of design alternatives that may be considered, scoping must fully consider a range of alternatives that match the wide array of community needs and which address all of the above-mentioned issues.

Fully considered design alternatives should include:

  • The ULI’s I-35 recommendations ( Expanding and lowering I-35 between Holly St and Dean Keeton St., building caps and stitches at key locations
  • The Reconnect Austin proposal ( Lowering I-35 between Holly St and Airport Blvd, capping the entire stretch with a 6-lane boulevard, converting the former frontage roads to other land uses, and reconnecting the east-west street grid
  • The Rethink35 proposal ( Replacing I-35 from Hwy 290S to 290N with a boulevard that includes dedicated space for walking, bicycling, and public transportation; repurposing excess land for other uses; restoring the east-west street grid; and encouraging non-local traffic to take other routes