Reminder: TxDOT Virtual Open House

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has opened their Virtual Open House.

This is your opportunity to let TxDOT know how you would like the urban core of I-35 rebuilt (from Lady Bird Lake to MLK).  They have two alternatives to comment on:

1.       Rebuild the Urban Core of I-35 much like it is today, where the main lanes are elevated over our surface streets.

2.      Rebuild the Urban Core of I-35 with depressed main lanes, with bridges and caps across, at surface street level.

We at Reconnect Austin are advocating for a full cap that truly reconnects Austin and fully restores the fabric of our city.  The Reconnect Austin alternative is not posted on TxDOT’s Virtual Open House.  However, we urge you to advocate for the depressed alternative they are currently showing.

It is critical that TxDOT hear from our community at this time.  If TxDOT hears from YOU that Austin prefers the depressed alternative, we will be closer to creating the best solution for Austin.

To view TxDOT’s alternatives for the Urban Core follow this link: http://www.mobility35openhouse.com/Location/Segment5/Location.aspx                    

Please forward this message to your membership, your friends, your social network, and your co-workers.  We need as many people as possible to follow the link and let TxDOT know what they believe would be the best choice for Austin.

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Fire Dept says Reconnect Austin will save lives

Ignacio Garcia, “Underground highway would have built-in safety features,” KXAN, June 26, 2013

A dramatic scene played out on Austin’s busiest roadway Monday when flames engulfed a tractor trailer on Interstate 35 near Riverside Drive. Witnesses described explosion and large flames shooting out a trailer loaded with pork bellies.

Eight hours later, the roads finally reopened.

New plans to move a section of the interstate have raised several questions, including what would happen in the event of a large fire in the tunnel?

“An accident inside a tunnel would make things a little bit more difficult, but no more difficult I would assume than what we had yesterday when we had to block off the entire southbound lanes,” said Palmer Buck with the Austin Fire Department. “We just have to work on contingency features if we did have a wreck in that facility how we’d move traffic around.”

Those are the challenges the fire department would have to consider as cut and cap supporters move towards burying a stretch of the interstate to create a tunnel that would add 30 acres of parks, stores and office space above.

“If you’re underground you have to have standard pipe systems that we can hook up to,” Buck said, “as well as some other protection systems and exits, if they are trapped in the tunnel, to exit out of.”

Safety was one of the topics in Tuesday’s open house at Akins High School as Austinites met to discuss future highway designs of the busy interstate. The idea of a “depressed” highway design is one of two being discussed.

“They could be built to have caps on top of them, not for the entire segment but for pieces of it,” said Kelli Reyna with TxDOT. “You could have caps on the depressed sections.”

(TxDOT’s) Reyna says all safety infrastructure for emergency services would be built, including built-in escape routes underground. “They are depressed main lanes, but the frontage roads would remain on the sides of the roadway,” she said. “That’s so that you can continue to have access onto and off of I-35.”

The cut and cap plan idea is still years away, but firefighters say they’ll be ready for whatever happens, whether it’s a capped tunnel or open road.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety in Downtown Austin

Call to Action:

We have an important opportunity this week to impact the future of bicycle and pedestrian safety in downtown Austin.

TxDOT is considering several alternatives for the reconstruction of I-35 through downtown. You may have been following this discussion in the news, most recently with yesterday’s front-page story in the Austin-American Statesman.

 “Superstreets” are a key component of all of TxDOT’s alternatives. These frontage road superstreets are presented as a way to give preference to North-South through traffic; increase speed by 40%; and reduce the number of cross-streets. They describe the project in the following document: http://mobility35.org/pdfs/proposed_concepts/superstreets.pdf

But this short-term traffic solution impedes East-West connectivity and poses a threat to active commuters and residents. To read more about superstreets, visit our blog: https://reconnectaustin.wordpress.com/resources/whats-so-super-about-txdots-superstreets/

Voice your opinion on this issue at several TxDOT open houses this week, occurring from 3-7 pm at the following dates and locations. For more information, you can click here.

Tuesday (June 25): Atkins High School Cafeteria – 10701 South 1st Street

Wednesday: First United Methodist Church of Pflugerville – 500 East Pecan Street (Pflugerville)

Thursday: Kealing Middle School Cafeteria – 1607 Pennsylvania Avenue

In addition, TxDOT is hosting a “virtual open house.

You may comment on superstreets under the “Refined Concepts” tab.

You can also provide feedback on the overall reconstruction alternatives through the urban core (segment 5) here: http://www.mobility35openhouse.com/Location/Segment5/Location.aspx

We encourage you to distribute this information to your contacts, and make it clear to TxDOT that the Austin bike community does not support superstreets.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with comments or questions.

An opportunity to reconnect Austin awaits!

Austin: What a remarkable place to work, play…live…

Our town’s charm results from the confluence of a great location and extraordinary vision: the historic downtown street grid, with Congress Avenue as the main street of Texas; anchored by the State Capitol and UT; and adorned by Lady Bird Lake.

Right now we, as a community, have a unique opportunity to shape Austin’s future for generations. To address the ever-increasing congestion on I-35, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will soon be reconstructing the downtown section. We have a voice regarding how they will proceed.

One option under consideration is to spend millions reconstructing I-35, elevated over our surface streets, much like it is today. Many have strongly objected to doing so. Why reinforce the elevated I-35 that has historically been a cultural, economic, social and racial barrier in Austin?

Another option is to depress the main lanes below street level, with east/west bridges and several “caps” on top of the main lanes. This isn’t a radical idea. TxDOT recently partnered with the City of Dallas to construct a cap over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway. At street level, on top of the cap, they created Klyde Warren Park, connecting downtown Dallas to the Uptown neighborhood. It instantly became a regional playground. Similar projects have been completed or are under active consideration by many other cities across the US.

TxDOT actually considered this idea for Austin years ago, but failed to move ahead. So much has changed since then! The Waller Creek Tunnel and District, the Health District, an expanding downtown residential population, intense development interest and, of course, critical congestion levels. This new reality demands more than just a short-term traffic solution. If we are to capitalize on these exciting changes, any truly long-term solution must also consider the economic, social, and urban design opportunity at hand.

Reconnect Austin applauds TxDOT’s proposal to update I-35’s 1950s highway design so that it increases capacity and reduces congestion. But we suggest building upon TxDOT’s “depressed lanes” alternative: construct a complete cap over those depressed lanes between Lady Bird Lake and MLK Boulevard. With this “cut-and-cap” approach, the end result is a boulevard (much like the original East Avenue that was displaced by I-35) that covers expressway lanes below ground level carrying traffic moving uninterrupted through downtown, and local traffic using the surface boulevard and street “grid.”

Reconstituting the original grid distributes traffic evenly and increases the number of connections into downtown by 60%. It would Reconnect Austin with tree-lined Great Streets, creating a safe, civilized, walkable/bikeable urban space that becomes an integral part of the fabric of Austin, much like today’s 2nd Street.

Reconnect Austin also proposes reducing the current right-of-way which, in turn, would unlock about 30 acres of under-utilized, high value real estate between Lady Bird Lake and MLK Boulevard for mixed-use projects. This boulevard concept does not require such a wide right-of-way. Based on a conservative 25-year build-out projection, this idea could support over 7,000 residents, create about 48,000 jobs, yield $3.2 billion in new tax base, and generate an estimated $1 billion in recurring, new property tax revenue. Other benefits include reducing noise and air pollution, helping revitalize Waller Creek, setting the stage for the Medical District, and reconnecting Austin in a way that makes I-35 a better neighbor for all.

As one of many potential revenue sources to help pay for construction costs, the redeemed land under existing frontage roads could be sold, leased or developed in joint ventures. The mechanics of creating value are in TxDOT’s playbook entitled “value extraction activities.” But without the cap that unlocks the potential value, there will be no value to extract, i.e. NO CAP, NO BENEFIT.

Many voices, from professional organizations to neighborhood associations, have chosen to write letters to TxDOT requesting that this concept receive further study. We invite you to join us in requesting that TxDOT include Reconnect Austin: Cut-and-Cap as an alternative to be studied thoroughly, including the social and economic benefits.

Let’s seriously consider how we can Reconnect Austin and make I-35 a better neighbor for everyone.

Voice your opinion of TxDOT’s proposals at their virtual open house, beginning June 24th at www.Mobility35.org.

(a revised version was published in the June 20, 2013 Austin American Statesman, an online version of which you can find by clicking here.)

Quick Update

You may be pleased to learn that more content has been added to our website. To learn more about our precedents, you can visit our aptly named Precedents page by clicking here. We also would like to bring your attention to the “widget” you’ll find in the uppermost section of the right-hand column of every page. You can subscribe to our blog simply by clicking the “climb aboard!” button; we would greatly appreciate it if you did!

Furthermore, we here at Reconnect Austin are excited to notify y’all that much progress is being made toward reconnecting Austin. Our growing coalition is still in the process of meeting with various civic and professional organizations as well as neighborhood groups. It is gaining considerable positive traction, and many good things are verging on happening, news which we can’t wait to relay! In the meanwhile, we once again ask you to join us in requesting that TxDOT continues to study the Reconnect Austin Concept as an alternative for what we can achieve.

To see what TxDOT is proposing for the Urban Core of Austin (“8th Street to Holly Street”), please visit their virtual open house. Take note that TxDOT is indeed working on a depressed alternative. Unfortunately, for now they have closed the comment portion. But TxDOT has informed us that they will be having a second virtual open house and round of community input meetings toward the end of June. Also, you can still comment by emailing them at info@mobility35.org.

We can’t thank you highly enough for all your continual support.

Tuesday’s Quick Update

Things are going full speed here at Reconnect Austin – But nothing would be happening if it weren’t for you, so thanks for all of y’all’s support!

You may be pleased to note that we are continuing to upload content to our website. At the Background page, you will find a handy copy of our color handout and, at the Press page, you will see the media attention that’s been given to our Concept. Rest assured much more is upcoming. So hang on to your seats!

As you may surely know, this is indeed a concept that many people feel deserves further study and detailed analysis. Many community groups have been sending letters to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) requesting that they include this concept in the alternatives they are currently studying. If it is included? It would receive the level of study and analysis (construction, costs, phasing, etc.) that TxDOT is giving the three proposals they currently have on the table. In other words? All we would like is that Reconnect Austin and thus the people of the City of Austin are given a fair shake.

Please feel free to let us know if you have any questions we can answer or suggestions you may have…And thanks again!