Waterloo Greenway – Letter to TxDOT 12/20

Waterloo Greenway Public Comment – I-35 Capital Express Central Project

Waterloo Greenway and the I-35 Capital Express Central Project have the unique opportunity to reconnect Texas communities in new, groundbreaking ways. Our 1.5-mile park system lies adjacent to the soon-to-be reconstructed interstate, highlighting the need for complementary collaboration.

We thank TxDOT for the leadership and vision to fully fund the I-35 Capital Express Project and ask that this investment take it one step further to consider the Central Texas ecosystem and critical, safe, community-centered opportunities. This project has the potential to make Texas a model of forward-thinking investment, benefiting all Texans.

We request the following be incorporated in TxDOT’s I-35 Capital Express Central Project (the Project) before it advances to the next step in the NEPA process. This includes modification of the Purpose and Need statement to reflect these important community priorities.

  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.
  2. Prioritize safe local access and connectivity to, along, and across the I-35 corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, people with disabilities, the elderly, health vulnerable, children, 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. Design on/off-ramps to enable east-west connection of local street network across the highway at surface level in the critical downtown section between Cesar Chavez and 7th Street. Doing so will create safe crossings to adjacent neighborhoods and improve overall mobility.
  3. Minimize the footprint of the main thoroughfare by pursuing tunneling as represented in Build Alternative 1. A narrower footprint will create the opportunity for developable frontage roads and maximize opportunities for safe, community-oriented uses.
  4. Build upon the goal for a more dependable and consistent route for transit through an integrated multi-modal network, informed by Project Connect.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Informed by adjacent planning efforts underway, including the Palm District, Innovation District, University of Texas Convention Center Study – Scenario 5, and Waterloo Greenway Design Plan.

Waterloo Greenway requests special consideration of the 35-acres of public green space currently under development and adjacent to the interstate, between 15th Street and Lady Bird Lake.

  1. Design on/off-ramps to maximize safe Downtown connectivity at critical east-west connections, prioritizing at 11th to 12th Streets at Waterloo Park, 5th to 7th Streets. and Cesar Chavez at Palm Park.
  2. Consideration for environmental and community health impacts due to immediate adjacency of Waterloo Greenway to the highway. Special consideration should be given to storm water, water and air quality, and noise pollution due to the sensitive environment and human populations in these park spaces.
  3. Take special consideration of the adjacent Palm Park. Sir Swante Palm Neighborhood Park is located west of I-35 along Waller Creek immediately south of 3rd Street and is among the first municipal parks in Austin’s park system. The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department has determined that the park and associated historic resources are likely eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The 1933 Rustic Style shelter house is one of the earliest park structures in our City. The construction of I-35 in the 1950s, and the formal opening of I-35 in Austin in 1962 had a devastating impact on the park, severing access from the eastside communities it served. A partnership with Waterloo Greenway will realize the revitalization of Palm Park, including the restoration of the historic shelter house. While the I-35 Capital Express project has an opportunity to rectify the lost connection with East Austin, PARD is concerned about the project’s reach into the park and possible impacts to the historic shelter house. Additional concerns include storm water roadway flowing into parkland and the adjacent Waller Creek, as well as noise pollution.

With consideration of regional context and opportunities, not just congestion relief, the I-35 Capital Express Project can deliver substantial safety enhancements to Texas’ most critical connection.