What is Mobility35? Information, Links and Why You Should Care

Written by Brendan Wittstruck, CNA Secretary

There has been much discussion lately on our neighbor to the west, IH35.  In response to many great questions from neighborhood members, I am writing to provide neighbors some basic information and resources to learn more about the projects and programs underway.

Chapter One: WHAT IS ALL THIS FUSS ABOUT?

The Mobility35 Capital Area Improvement Program (CAIP) is an effort sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), The City of Austin, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and other transportation partners, including HNTB (a consultant hired by TxDOT).  The Plan addresses the IH35 corridor from San Marcos to Georgetown (map) and will directly affect the Cherrywood Neighborhood in Segment 4 (which ranges from MLK to Airport Blvd).

Briefly, the current Mobility 35 Plans for Segment 4 include the addition of two new lanes of traffic on the lower decks, designated as a “Future Transportation Corridor” (the upper decks, TxDOT notes, do not have the structural capacity to add another lane of traffic).  The new lanes will require a redesign of all bridges over IH35 and all on- and off-ramps.  Current plans call for the demolition and rebuilding of all bridges over IH35 in Segment 4 (Manor, 32nd Street, 38 1/2 Street) and for the permanent closing of 7 of the 9 existing on- and off-ramps.

TxDOT held a workshop for representatives of North Central neighborhoods on May 1st.  Cherrywood was represented by Steering Committee Interim Chair Katie Halloran, Land Use & Transportation Committee Chair Girard Kinney and myself.  All materials provided by TxDOT and HNTB at that meeting are publicly available here.  TxDOT also met with CNA membership at the May Steering Committee meeting on May 14th and CNA membership also met about the plans at the General meeting on May 21st.  Draft meeting notes from both meetings are available on the CNA website.

Chapter Two: WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CUT AND CAP?

Technically, nothing.  There are a few other mobility projects underway or in discussion in Austin which are often confused with the Mobility35 CAIP Plan:

Project Connect
Project Connect is an effort by Capital Metro, CAMPO, the City of Austin and Lone Star Rail looking at regional options for multi-modal transit (see their Vision Map here).  The Metro Rapid Bus Rapid Transit (BRT, or “bendy bus”) lines on N. Lamar/S. Congress (801) and Burnet/S. Lamar (803) are part of Project Connect.  So is the proposed light rail that you’ve heard so much about, and which will likely appear as part of a City Bond package in the November 2014 elections (great article by Michael King of the Chronicle here).

Lone Star Rail
Lone Star Rail is a planned commuter rail to run between Georgetown and San Antonio.  The Statesman’s Ben Wear recently reported via Twitter that the environmental review process for this project (map) will begin in a few months, though the project currently lacks funding.

Reconnect Austin
Reconnect Austin is a volunteer effort championing a “cut and cap” proposal for IH35 through downtown Austin.  This effort has been gaining some ground but its future and how it meshes with TxDOT’s plans for the downtown corridor remain unclear.  Likely, the downtown portion of IH35 will be depressed (lowered below grade) and Reconnect Austin has recently been arguing for a design alternative that would not cap the depressed highway, but would connect with a series of bridges and infrastructure that could support a cap in the future.  The most recent thinking associated with this project (which is not related to TxDOT) is available here [PDF].

Confused yet?  There’s a lot going on.

Chapter Three: WHY SHOULD I CARE?

Well, for one thing IH35 is right next to you.  The CAIP plans will affect interim and long-term local traffic patterns through the demolition and rebuilding of bridges, closure of several on- and off-ramps and the redesign of the Airport Blvd and 51st Street intersections.  These are major changes that will affect you both positively and negatively.  Moreover, these are interim efforts in the face of a much longer conversation about the design of IH35, the confluence of high-speed and local traffic, and the future of urban freeways in the United States.  And finally, because your voice needs to be heard.

So what can you do?

1) Learn about the plans.  The workshop materials–including several proposals for the Airport Blvd design and a proposal for an off-ramp that would acquire the land of the current businesses on the northbound frontage road between 32nd Street and 38 1/2 Street–can be viewed here.

2) Join the Mobility35 mailing list.  Get updates here.

3) Follow NCINC2.  The North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition 2 (NCINC2) is a neighborhood stakeholder group with representatives from several neighborhoods including Cherrywood to help spread information and present a unified front and voice for our neighborhoods.  You can visit the website, read their mission and follow them on Twitter here and Facebook here.  Cherrywood representatives to NCINC2 are Girard Kinney, Jules Kniolek and myself.  Cherrywood’s Jennifer Potter-Miller also built and runs the NCINC2 website.

4) Come to meetings.  The CNA Steering Committee and Land Use & Transportation Committee have been devoting considerable time to the Mobility35 plan and look to your voices to help build a neighborhood consensus and bring new ideas to the table.  The next LUT meeting will be on Wednesday, June 4 at 7:15 at Taqueria Los Altos and the next Steering Committee will be on Wednesday, June 11 at 6:30 at Los Altos.  For more information, please feel free to send an email to the Steering Commitee here, Interim Chair here, or LUT Chair here.

5) Write your Council members, Mayor, Representatives. Whomever.  And vote.  Wouldn’t you rather play a role in your City’s future than complain about it later?

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