[:FAN: Resolution] Feedback to TxDOT on IH-35

Some of you may know that TxDOT is planning changes to IH-35 and has been exploring various options. Currently, TxDOT is proposing three options: “modified existing”, “lowered”, and “no build”. See below for details about the options.

TxDOT will officially be accepting input between Sept. 20 and Oct. 4. In its final impact study, the agency must respond to any substantive comments received during this period. We do not have to restrict ourselves to “voting” for one of the options that TxDOT is advancing; we are free to provide any substantive suggestions we wish.

I propose that FAN weigh in on this issue with a letter that (1) supports lowering IH-35 (but not necessarily all aspects of the “lowered” option TxDOT is proposing) to reconnect our east and west neighborhoods, (2) urges a number of specific improvements to IH-35 that are not currently in any of the proposals (see “FAN’s Suggested Improvements” below), and (3) among the limited “build” options TxDOT is currently advancing, expresses a preference for the “lowered” option.

Both “build” options would add collector-distributor lanes (intersection bypass lanes), modifying entrance and exit ramps, adding U-turns to several intersections and reconfiguring the 15th Street and I-35 interchange by lowering the main lanes to pass below 15th Street.

Between MLK Boulevard and Airport Boulevard plans include adding a lane in each direction on the upper deck and reconstructing lanes on the lower deck to add one express lane in each direction and increase bridge clearances. Other additions include U-turns, modifying entrance and exit ramp locations, and a diverging diamond interchange at Airport Boulevard.

TxDOT’s proposed improvements between 8th Street and Cesar Chavez Street would replace and “improve” the current main lanes in a similar configuration as it is today, meaning the main lanes would go over the east/west cross-streets. At Cesar Chavez Street, the southbound main lanes would be rebuilt to go over Cesar Chavez Street similar to the northbound side.

TxDOT’s proposed changes between 8th Street and Cesar Chavez Street would involve lowering both northbound and southbound I-35 main lanes below current ground level to go under the east/west cross-streets from 8th Street to Cesar Chavez.

TxDOT is also required to carry an option of making no substantive changes to IH35 in central Austin through the NEPA process.

FAN’s Suggested Improvements

  1. Lower as much of IH-35 as possible through central Austin, including the central and north central portion.
  2. Better east/west connectivity by reconnecting all east/west streets across IH-35.
  3. Cap the lowered portions of the highway.
  4. Improve bridge safety with wide sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and shade trees.
  5. Improve frontage road safety with design speeds no higher than 30 mph, wide sidewalks with continuous shade trees, protected bike lanes, on-street parking.
  6. Any transit along frontage roads and across bridges should travel in dedicated lanes.
  7. Any transit stations in managed lanes of I-35 should be in line (no flyovers for buses out of managed lanes), and east/west transit connections should occur at the in-line stations.
  8. Use natural barriers (e.g. trees) to mitigate additional air pollution from added vehicles.
  9. Mitigate additional noise pollution from added vehicles (but not with 50 ft concrete sound walls or other unsightly barriers).
  10. Full economic analysis of the impacts to City of Austin tax base.

Thanks to @brwittstruck for the descriptions of the TxDOT options and to @sblack721’s staff for supplying a great list of initial feedback items.

Do you mean we would come up with suggestions here and send them on without a formal vote since they’ll just be membership suggestions?

No. I provided an initial list of specific suggestions. But of course other ideas are welcome!

I’d like FAN to take a position as an organization.

I have a concern that expressing support for any options in the downtown rebuild will be taken as support for the “3rd lane on the upper deck” portion of the project, as has been expressed by others in the community who I respect. Thoughts?

Also, this is transitwashing. Nearly zero actual transit usefulness will be provided by buses running in the middle of I-35, whether or not they have their own lanes. What little benefit could possibly accrue would mostly be delivered to people who live far out in areas that don’t pay Capital Metro taxes.

1 Like

Good points, Mike. I think we really need to thread the needle here to provide constructive feedback yet not indicate support for any aspects of proposals that may actually be worse than making no changes at all. One thing we could add is a simple caution against the premise that increasing automobile lane capacity - with or without tolls, with or without transit - will be a benefit.

The plan to spend $4.6 billion on I-35, just on the face of it, needs to be opposed - because the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) reports that congestion will be multiple-times WORSE after this enormous public expenditure (and much of the $4.6 billion is for increasing single-occupant vehicle (SOV) capacity on I-35, which is a self-defeating strategy; as is the proposal to create two “classes” of SOV drivers with a dedicated managed lane - making the dedicated lane a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane instead would at least work to begin changing driving habits).

Funding of mass transit/public transportation has to become a regional priority, and it could if just a portion of what is proposed for “fixing” I-35 was allocated for it.

For #8, may want to be more suggestive for natural barriers (i.e. trees).

1 Like

Good suggestion, @Unboxstudio. Changed!

I support the general gist of Roger’s post. I disagree that anyone can gain any ground or make an impact by worrying about supporting the whole i35 project or not. Most of the project is already funded and under construction. they’ve perhaps intentionally done all the widening out in the places that will cause the most induced development first. this was a fight to have with the 2040 RTP or before. But not having FAN come out in favor of sinking and capping is silly. i think.

1 Like

Can you reply with a link to or more info on the TTI report that you noted? I would love to read the full report on this as I’m in the transportation industry, but also live near this corridor and am affected by its congestion everyday. Thanks!

1 Like

Does anyone have the information to help @Genest_Landry?

We’ll need to start the vote on this tomorrow to make the deadline for feedback, so any changes to the wording would need to be made today.

Two big grains of salt for the concept that I-35 congestion will be magnified by 5 million in the future - or whatever the current hysteria is:

  1. Even TXDOT staff working on this actual project believe that the CAMPO forecast models are seriously flawed and providing unreliable forecasting of future scenarios, including traffic impacts.

  2. Driving in Texas actually appears to be going down, according to my analysis of TXDOT DISCOS data. If the VMT per capita trend continues at the rate of decrease that we have seen over the last ten years, 2014 would be the peak year for total VMT (not per capita, but total) for the entire state of Texas, with a gradual decrease down to 1980s levels of total VMT by 2040, even with our expected growth. Harris, Dallas, and Tarrant - the three largest counties in the state where 1/3 of Texans live - all had less TOTAL VMT in 2015 than 2006 while adding millions of people. Here’s some of the story I"m talking about. I’m doing a series on VMT on Streetsblog Texas, so there will be more: http://tex.streetsblog.org/2016/09/14/texas-dots-own-numbers-cast-doubt-on-its-story-of-ever-rising-traffic/

1 Like

Today, the North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition 2 (NCINC2) sent a letter to TxDOT with our responses to the NEPA public input period. In summary, NCINC2 outright opposes the “Modified Existing” (more elevated freeway through downtown) option and conditionally supports the Lowered option, with four key concerns that need to be addressed:

  1. Lack of alignment with Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, Neighborhood Plans, corridor plans and other City of Austin initiatives;
  2. Lack of a long-term vision for the IH35 corridor that studies social, environmental and economic impacts of the removal of the upper decks;
  3. Lack a sufficiently thorough environmental study (we ask for an Environmental Impact Study, not the less stringent Environmental Assessment currently being performed);
  4. Lack of a north-central (“decks” area) stakeholder working group

(the letter is available here: http://ncinc2.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/160926-NCINC2-Letter-to-TxDOT_FINAL.pdf)

NCINC2 does believe this is an important opportunity to remove the Modified Existing option from further consideration, but we share concerns as @mdahmus mentions that the current plans for the decks area are not satisfactory. I an other others in these neighborhoods will continue to press for alternate designs that are not deleterious to connectivity, pedestrian and bicyclist use and human and cultural health of the corridor, among other things.

I support the FAN positions outlined by @sblack721 and @rcauvin above and would be happy to contribute to wordsmithing.