HNA Meeting Minutes for January 18, 2023

HNA Meeting Minutes

Jan. 18, 2023

Presiding: Coan Dillahunty

Coan asked for a motion to approve the November minutes. Linda Guerrero made the motion. Barbara Epstein seconded the motion. Minutes approved to go in the record.

Hancock Herald Editor - Robyn Ross stepping down as editor. Last newsletter will be the March issue unless we can find a new editor. Please contact Robyn if you are interested.

Compatibility in Corridors (pertains to zoning) was passed by the City Council in December. Not sure what this means for our neighborhood but we will keep an eye on this issue.

Treasurer’s report - Bruce was unavailable so Coan gave report. We have almost raised $600 in association dues from our neighborhood for 2023. Expenditures: Dues for our membership in the Austin Neighborhood Council. Coan encouraged anyone who has not done so to pay your dues.

Officer Elections

Coan had a request to do this process by secret ballot. He entered a link in the chat for members to use to access the ballot.


President: Barbara Epstein
Vice President: Bart Whatley
Treasurer: Bruce Fairfield
Secretary: Sowmya Srinivasan

Nominators said a few words in support of their candidates.


President: Barbara Epstein
Vice President: Bart Whatley
Treasurer: Bruce Fairfield
Secretary: Sowmya Srinivasan

Robyn Ross introduced Brendan Wittstruck, Chair of the North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition (NCINC - who gave a presentation on the current status of the I-35 project.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) released its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) and their preferred alternative for design. Capital Express I-35 Central Project, which runs from 290 East, in the north, to 290 West/I71 West, in the south, is just one of 3 projects. Entire project runs from 45 in the south to 45 in the north. The designs that are still on the table are Alternative 2, Modified alternative 3 and no build. The preferred design would require 42 more acres of land, most of which is in Cherrywood and Hancock, resulting in 107 displacements, a $4.5 billion dollar price tag and a 6 year construction timeline. Construction is estimated to start in 2025. TxDot is projecting 100,000 more vehicles per day by 2045 but we know from 20 years worth of data that it is at its functional capacity of about 200,000 vehicles per day.

Modified alternative 3 includes 2 non-tolled managed lanes on each side for high occupancy vehicles, EMS vehicles, etc. Displacements include 107 residences and businesses as well as 4 historic buildings. Interchange at Airport Blvd is being proposed as a Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI), which will be unsuited for pedestrian movement. NCINC has not taken a position yet. They will be working with all of their member neighborhoods before commenting.

Public comments due by March 7. Please get involved in one way or another but comments are crucial. NCINC is trying to get the City Council to be more active in the conversation. NCINC is hopeful that this will change soon. The City Council is hosting a town hall on Feb. 2. TxDot has the funding for this project and they have never made it this far into the process so this is a critical moment for our neighborhoods’ future. Brendan opened the meeting up to questions.

Question: Has your group presented an alternative to TxDot?

Answer: No, NCINC has been more process oriented and goal oriented and have not supplied a specific physical vision. NCINC is in discussions now with TxDot to try to host a meeting with all of the schematics laid out where community members would be able to comment and draw on the schematics.

Question: Do you know about the articles that appeared in Bloomberg and the Guardian about the failure of lane expansion in Houston to accommodate their increased population and traffic.

Answer: Yes, I am afraid that the 6 to 8 years of construction may only benefit Austin for a short period of time.

Question: It is my understanding that TxDot can do their own internal evaluations. Should we read the EIS report with this in mind? Also, I have worked with TxDot previously on some projects and was told not to find anything historic out there.

Answer: Yes, TxDot has a memorandum of understanding with the Federal government that allows them to self-evaluate their EIS.

Question: I have read some of the EIS and there is a scenario that they propose if no reconstruction occurs that a commuter might spend 2.5 hours to drive 8 miles on the highway. Is their methodology questionable? Is there any hope of changing their mind about Modified Alternative 3 or are they just going through an exercise.

Answer: I am concerned about this. They are using the increasing population to justify the highway expansion but in reality if it took 3 hours to cross the city, I simply would not do it. I am going to find an alternative. The highway as it exists needs some kind of reconstruction but not necessarily with the lane expansion. NCINC has brought TxDot’s methodology to their attention repeatedly and they don’t seem to budge in that arena.

Question: Have you been able to get some help/analysis from the University of Texas?

Answer from Hannes Mandel: Report gets complicated quickly but even experts have questioned TxDot’s methodologies. Through Reconnect Austin, they were in touch with a traffic modeling expert from Massachusetts, who had worked on I-35 issues, said TxDot was using outdated methodologies. Every time TxDot predicted growth on I-35, they have been wrong. Currently, traffic modeling uses something called “dynamic traffic assignment.” TxDot still uses “static traffic assignment” from the 1970s. Journalists such as Nathan Bernier, KUT, and Megan Kimball, who is writing a book on this, are helping to keep the public informed. Hopefully, pressure will rise and the City Council will pick it up and make a difference. The Vice-President of the Cherrywood neighborhood association, Brandy, has had contact with the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), which is a research institute.

Brendan: It isn’t just Austin that is dealing with these issues. Dallas, Houston and El Paso have TxDot projects they are involved with. The TTI at Texas A&M also works with TxDot. Brendan was recently put in touch with a UT professor that does modeling. She has some grad students that NCINC may be able to work with.

Question: Any lawsuits in the works?

Answer: Yes, 3 groups (TexPIRG, Environment Texas and Rethink35). The nature of the lawsuit is about TxDot’s division of this project in 3 segments (North, Central, South). This allows projects to be scored independently of each other. Also allows a less stringent environmental review of the north and south segments. It allows TxDot to tier the timing of each project. Draft EIS for central project notes that it will not contribute to sprawl because 95% of the area is already developed. However, if all segments were considered together, this would not be the cause. Lawsuit is currently pending.

Question: Do you know who the consultants were that did the cultural resource assessments?

Answer: No but they are listed in the EIS.

Coan mentioned that if we want to do a resolution we need to call a special meeting because our regularly held meeting in March is after public comments are due. Brendan will send Robyn what Hyde Park is putting together.

Robyn mentioned that Jim Walker, President of Cherrywood Neighborhood Association, always emphasizes that it is helpful for neighborhoods to speak with one voice. Robyn is on our Transportation Committee. Committee will be reviewing the EIS report with the aim of making comments and offering language to HNA members that they could also use to make comments.

Terry thanked Robyn for her work on the newsletter.

More info:

Recorded by Laura Tull