About this Project

 

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Reconnect Austin is a long-term urban design and economic development solution to a traffic problem. I-35, through Austin’s urban core, is the 4th most congested roadway in the US. Like many other highways, the bridges are over 50 years old, necessitating reconstruction. Like many other highways, I-35 has historically been a social, economic, cultural and racial barrier, dividing West Austin from East Austin. We envision a lively, walkable, civilized urban space, with mixed-use buildings full of restaurants, shops, offices and residences, and significantly improved accessibility for all.

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The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) maintains that whatever they end up designing and constructing will be I-35’s last major investment. Due to the age of the existing bridges, the downtown portion must be completely reconstructed. Because of this, we have the opportunity to rethink how the highway interacts with, and impacts, our city.

The Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan calls for the “alignment of land use and transportation planning and decision-making to achieve a compact and connected city.” To this end, the City of Austin passed Resolution No. 20140306-025 on March 6, 2014. It states: “The City Manager is directed to consider the tenets of the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan and support I-35 alternatives that are in keeping with the compact and connected vision set forth in that plan.” Finally, TxDOT’s I-35 Capital Area Improvement Plan goals include improving east-west connectivity, improving compatibility with neighborhoods, and enhancing bicycle, pedestrian and transit options.

TxDOT has adopted the ITE/CNU Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach, as has the Federal Highway Administration and the City of Austin. This is the engineering manual that lays out the standards for designing good, walkable, multi-modal urban streets. Today the frontage roads function as a second highway. By using these standards, we can turn them into urban arterials that work as part of our grid, helping distribute traffic efficiently. We can design bridges that are both safe and comfortable ways to cross I-35, wide bridges that will almost make you forget you are crossing a highway.

6th St. Bridge 6-2014

6th Street Bridge, looking West

Bridges like this will work for pedestrians and bikes and those critical transit connections, taking car trips off our congested roads and providing much better access into downtown. The way we design our city directly affects our ability to relieve congestion. As TxDOT itself says, we cannot build our way out of congestion with highways. But we CAN reduce it by expanding peoples’ transportation choices.
Currently, TxDOT’s design limits east-west connectivity only to existing crossings. There are now either underpasses or bridges at Cesar Chavez, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, and 12th, and bottlenecks occur at these intersections because everyone is trying to use the same limited access points. So, if TxDOT simply replaces these existing connections, we will miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to create additional entry points into downtown that break the “ring of congestion.” We need ALL of our grid back to make downtown, the economic engine of the Central Texas Region, function as efficiently as possible.

Reconnect Austin believes that any rebuilding of I-35 must meet the following criteria:

  • Depress the main lanes of the interstate below grade from south of Holly St. to north of 15th St.;
  • Structure the walls of the depressed main lanes so they can support a future cap along the entire corridor;
  • Rebuild all the bridges that currently cross I-35 and build them to Austin’s Great Streets standards;
  • Re-engage every historic connection across the highway for all users, including those currently not addressed in the Implementation Plan (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, and 10th);
  • Design the frontage roads as multi-modal, moderate speed arterials that function as part of the grid;
  • Replace the frontage roads with a boulevard on the cap, creating new tax base for the City of Austin.

Reconnect Austin is in the process of meeting with various civic and professional organizations as well as neighborhood groups. This growing coalition is gaining considerable positive traction. Right now we ask you to join us in requesting that TxDOT continues to study the Reconnect Austin Concept as an alternative for what we can achieve in the urban core. With your help, together we can seize this opportunity to create a highway corridor that achieves the goals of the City of Austin, creating a compact, connected and vibrant city.

So please visit TxDOT’s virtual open house and GET INVOLVED!