Imagine turning Austin’s greatest barrier—I-35—into Austin’s greatest connector. Great Streets connecting across the freeway, on bridges so wide you hardly notice the traffic underneath. Frontage roads that function as city streets, comfortable for bicyclists and pedestrians. A reconstituted grid that breaks through downtown’s ring of congestion, providing transit facilities and options for all needs.
We present: Great Streets. Great Bridges. Great Connections.
When the main lanes are depressed, structures will be put in place to support a future cap over the freeway. As a City initiative, Phase 2 will entail a full cap, with even better connections and amenities.
March 6, 2014—This morning, the Austin City Council approved on consent (6-0) a resolution to re-focus the City’s I-35 efforts to follow the tenets of Imagine Austin and preserve crucial east-west connections across the freeway. The resolution—penned by CM Chris Riley and co-sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and CM Laura Morrison—follows neighborhood push-back against TxDOT’s proposal to close the Woodland Avenue underpass. This closure is part of the larger Capital Area Improvement Program, a Texas Department of Transportation plan to improve the I-35 corridor from SH-45N to SH-45SE. In central Austin, these improvements could include the closure of six cross-streets, as well as all entrance and exit ramps through the lower decks.
The City Council has received letters of support for this resolution from the Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC) and the Design Commission, as well as residents of central Austin neighborhoods. The PAC expressed concern for pedestrian access, comfort, and safety in a corridor that already holds Austin’s record for most pedestrian fatalities.
Reconnect Austin is a group of volunteers encouraging TxDOT to consider local needs as a priority in freeway improvement projects. Reconnect Austin educates Austin residents about these possibilities, and provides support for community advocacy.
1. What is the name of the highway? Please list any official and non-official names.
2. What city/state does the highway travel through?
3. If you know the beginning address, intersection or geographic coordinate, please enter it below:
4. If you know the ending address, intersection or geographic coordinate, please enter it below:
5. Describe the highway and why you recommend its removal. Please include any information about maintenance, surrounding land uses, and traffic conditions. If you have images or can provide more detailed information, please email Alex McKeag at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Highways” in the subject heading.
Since it replaced Austin’s historic East Avenue, I-35 has been an economic, social, cultural, and racial barrier. Now, the highway’s bridges through the urban core of Austin are over 50 years old, necessitating reconstruction. This is the most congested highway section in Texas, carrying 200,000 cars a day through America’s Fastest Growing City (according to the Forbes measure of population and economy). As a NAFTA corridor, I-35 cannot simply be removed. However, one must recognize its immense impact on downtown, and the unique urgency of this moment, in which TxDOT is moving forward on improvements all along the Central Texas I-35 corridor. A proposal has come forward to lower the main lanes of this one mile stretch of I-35, cover that mile with a continuous cap, and place a city boulevard on top. The at-grade boulevard would be reconnected to the surface cross streets and the land where the frontage roads now sit would be converted to developable land…This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remove Austin’s historic blight and reconnect the city.
6. Are there any proposals or initiatives to remove this highway? Please list any groups or community leaders or groups who are currently involved.
Reconnect Austin (www.reconnectaustin.com) is a volunteer effort to catalyze a community conversation regarding the future of I-35.
“The Texas Department of Transportation has also taken note of the problems with 35,notingthat the design of this highway causes decreased speeds and increased congestion. Something has to be done, and thetwo plansTxDOT proposes include one conventional solution (simply updating the current infrastructure) and one new solution (creating a depression for traffic lanes from 8th Street to Holly Street).
“Doing a conventional update on the highway would just be more of the same. Depressing the lanes is a good start, but then you have wasted space at street level. The Reconnect Austin plan proposes to actually bury those depressed lanes, creating more “people space” where car space used to be. When this was done in Boston, the “capped” area became public park space. It’s a beautiful promenade of sorts that runs through the middle of the city. People sit on the benches or get some exercise during their lunch breaks.
“In addition to the additional green space, the cut and cap option would also provide more developable land that’s now consumed by on and off ramps. Reconnect Austin says 30 acres of frontage road could be turned into prime real estate for businesses, restaurants and homes. As more people see what can be created when we replace concrete structures with green space and people-focused space, maybe more people will be encouraged to get out of their cars and exist in that space.”