Press

“While construction likely won’t start until 2020 – McCoy says the agency doesn’t want to tear up I-35 Downtown until it’s completed work on Highway 183 and MoPac north – the next step is environmental studies of the two plans TxDOT considers technically feasible. That roughly three-year process will result in a decision about which construction plan to use. Reconnect Austin and its allies – civic groups whose memberships Walker says represent 23,000 people – are asking TxDOT to add the Reconnect plan to the two advancing to the environmental study stage.

“We respect what they’ve tried to do, but it’s not really a democratic process,” McCoy says. “It doesn’t matter how much people like this, if it’s not technically feasible and it falls apart for all the reasons we say it falls apart, it’s not something we can actually do.” He says TxDOT has done its best to incorporate elements of the Reconnect plan into its depressed lane scenario, and adds, “We hate to see this as an ‘us versus them’ – we really view this as an ‘us and us,’ working together to try to find a best possible solution.”

“The camps have yet to find common ground. “Somewhere that technical side that TxDOT’s talking about and the urban planning side that Sinclair’s talking about, we’re going to have to find a way to translate that and meet in the middle,” says TTI’s Ginger Goodin. “[We need to] make sure there’s understanding among all these players who are very passionate about doing what’s right. Can we bridge the gap in the language so we can develop the best solution?”

“Black’s idea isn’t as maverick or groundbreaking as it might appear. Several other cities across the country have sunk freeways or removed them entirely, though Black says the Reconnect proposal is the only one that prioritizes the creation of new developable land. The Congress for the New Urbanism is collecting the ideas under the heading “Highways to Boulevards,” and cites examples of freeways entirely removed in Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Portland. In each case, the freeway’s removal spurred development and increased property values. Traffic was dispersed to city streets and absorbed by the grid. While none of these was an interstate freeway (I-35 can’t be removed because of NAFTA), the concept suggested by Reconnect is a similar dispersal and absorption.

“In the minds of New Urbanists, city planning is now undoing the mistakes of previous generations. The dominance of the Fifties- or Sixties-era freeway restricts “access and exchange – the central purpose of cities,” says Peter Park, a planner who spearheaded the removal of a freeway in Milwaukee. Park suggests freeways attract traffic by offering one route instead of many, and thus increase congestion; his argument is supported by the TTI study, whose models based on current driver behavior show that if lanes were added to I-35, drivers would use them instead of other crowded streets, “re-filling” the highway. Because Austin is growing so much, any new lanes will immediately be filled. Adding managed (tolled) lanes helps somewhat (buses can go faster) but “the travel experience along I-35 general purpose lanes does not substantially improve” in any scenario that just adds lanes.”

“If Klyde Warren holds lessons for Reconnect Austin, one is its pairing of public money with private donations. “You can get a lot of bang for your buck [that way],” Owen says. “We had a transportation project that we enhanced with private dollars. The public dollars went to the transportation project, and the private dollars went to the enhancement aspects.”

“The other is a strong working relationship with TxDOT. Zogg describes the agency as initially “intrigued” by the idea of the deck park. “TxDOT was taking a different approach to the beautification of highways,” he says, “not just putting a road in but trying to make it somewhat beautiful as well.” If TxDOT, the city and Reconnect could come to agreement, they could make a tremendous impact on Austin, he says. “Whatever y’all are thinking about doing, think about it bigger, because you have an opportunity to do something extremely significant.”

“The Texas Department of Transportation has also taken note of the problems with 35, noting that the design of this highway causes decreased speeds and increased congestion. Something has to be done, and the two plans TxDOT 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.”

“From the Buffalo Bayou trail near Bayou Place (aka the old convention center), the view can be impressive. Interstate 45 and Memorial Drive span the bayou providing for a huge, often unseen downtown flood plain. Take a step back, or more specifically a step down, and the efforts placed into lifting downtown comes to life. We’ve engineered a way to  build infrastructure in an area that otherwise would be fit only for holding flood waters.

“Whether we’ve paved paradise to put up a parking lot is a discussion for another day. The fact is we did it, and with the exception of a little flooding we’re winning and opening up park space. It’s yet another example of how cities can solve a lot of problems if they’re willing to pay for it.

“Austin faces a similar, and interesting decision when it comes to Interstate 35. Streetsblog recently did a good rundown of the two plans vying for attention. One is by the Texas Department of Transportation, the other by Austin architect Sinclair Black…

“What would the footprint of U.S. 59 be worth from Texas Avenue to Jefferson Street? Or the Pierce elevated along I-45? Would opening up downtown be worth digging deep, literally and financially?”

“Black’s plan returns I-35 to its earlier incarnation as East Avenue – a simple line of surface streets. The idea is to tear down the barriers separating the east and west sides of the city – that’s why his version of the project’s called Reconnect Austin…

“The Texas Department of Transportation’s (TXDoT) idea is slightly different. Engineer Terry McCoy says the cut and depression of lanes would still take place. But ‘the difference comes in with respect to the frontage roads,’ he says. ‘With our proposal, the frontage roads would essentially stay where they are. With the Reconnect Austin proposal, the thought would be to move those over the top of I-35. So that’s the basic fundamental difference.'”

“At the moment, Austin City Manager Marc Ott is evaluating the economic merits of both proposals.  He will make a presentation before city council by the middle of fall.”

“Since it was built about 50 years ago, Interstate 35 has been an enormous physical and psychological barrier through downtown Austin. Partly elevated, partly sunk, it’s the dividing line between what locals refer to as “east Austin” and plain old Austin. It’s also a major NAFTA trade corridor that carries 250,000 vehicles a day, and is considered one of the most congested freeways in the country. I-35 is due for repair, and naturally TxDOT has proposed a traditional rebuilding and widening project.

“Because the freeway is so widely used, tearing it down just didn’t seem  practical, Black said. The plan is partly inspired by a similar project in Dallas that capped the Woodall Rodgers Freeway. Now above the highway people play chess and ping-pong at the Klyde Warren Park, which opened last year. There are many other precedents, said Black, like Millennium Park in Chicago, which sits on top of rail yards.

“If TxDOT builds just another freeway using a bucket of tax money, it becomes just another recurring expense,” said Black. “If they take our approach … it becomes a recurring asset.”

“Along with allowing businesses to move in, pedestrians would be able to, for the first time in decades, have an easy walkable path from east to the heart of downtown Austin. The proposal calls for a “Grand Urban Boulevard”, one that would allow pedestrians a safe stroll over the underground highway…

“The tunnel would take into account environmental issues as well…“It is important to people who live right next to the noise and pollution because it blocks most of the noise in ways that walls never could,” Heyden Walker, a project manager at Reconnect Austin, said. “When you have a cap, and a ventilation system, you have an opportunity to scrub the air and to remove the air before it leaves the tunnel”…

“Katelyn Christiansen, a psychology senior who drives I-35 daily, said she wants to see improvements. 

“I literally see accidents on 35 every day because too many people are driving home and they’re hot and tired,” Christiansen said. “It’s getting out of control and anything to address the issue is better than nothing.”

“Ryan Rafols, a psychology sophemore who also uses I-35 often, said he believes while it may be costly, it is needed. 

“I think that the growing transportation needs of Austinites is enough reason to justify increasing our mass transit capabilities,” Rafols said. “It may be financially difficult to fund all of these projects but Austin needs it.”

“Michael McGill, chief of staff to Austin Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, says putting below grade or covering the portion of I-35 from Lady Bird Lake to 15th Street or Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard could help to ‘stitch back together’ the downtown and East Austin areas now divided by the interstate.

‘Cutting and capping [the highway] also would provide added value to the adjacent properties,’ says McGill. Capturing some of that value through real estate assessments or other means would help pay for capping the highway and building related improvements, he adds.

“Kelli Reyna, spokeswoman for TxDOT, says adding two lanes to the six-lane road near downtown Austin is likely.”

“Texas legislators often act as if they believe Austin belongs to all of us, much to the city’s consternation, but on one issue, at least, we believe that Texans beyond the city’s limits have more than a passing interest (or, in this case, a no-passing interest). The issue is Austin traffic, particularly teeth-gnashing traffic on I-35 as it passes through the city…

“It’s an experience that gives motorists plenty of time to contemplate alternatives: Maybe move the Capitol to Buda? Or maybe installing portable stages along the right-of-way where musicians in the so-called Live Music Capital of the World could play to a captive audience.

“The Capitol City still can’t figure out what to do with cross-town traffic at 6th and Lamar and other such bothersome bottlenecks, but for the I-35 nightmare Austinites have come up with a solution we find intriguing. They call it “Cut & Cap,” and it deserves the serious attention it’s getting.”

“Reconnect Austin’s project manager, Heyden Walker, from Black’s firm, Black + Vernooy, says that Black originally came up with the plan to depress a stretch of I-35 back in the ’90s. TxDOT even drew up a plan, but it fell apart. It was after working on the Waller Creek tunnel project last year that freed up 28 acres of downtown land from flood plains that Black decided to reintroduce the “Cut and Cap” plan…Walker says the fact that TxDOT was behind Klyde Warren Park proves that this kind of project is feasible in Austin.

“It’s a really important precedent, because it shows that Dallas had a vision and worked with TxDOT to make that happen,” she says. “Working with neighborhood and community groups here [in Austin], we’ve been saying that unless we have a vision that we believe in, we’re just going to get an off-the-shelf highway design, because it’s easier.”

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…

“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.”

“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.”

“Here are some some pictures of what I-35 could look like either depressed or raised through downtown Austin:

Recessed plus full cap

Recessed plus full cap

Recessed plus partial cap

Recessed plus partial cap

Reinforcing the elevated barrier

Reinforcing the elevated barrier

“The Texas Department of Transportation is hosting a series of meetings this week to get feedback. TxDOT has asked us to stress to our web visitors that the renderings are conceptual and are nowhere near a depiction of actual future plans. These are meant to give anyone interested in the plans a general idea of things.”

  • KLBJ Newsroom: Austin Mayor focusing on transportation projects

“Political support appears to be there for an idea to lower the lanes of I-35 through downtown Austin and install a cap over the highway, turning it into a tunnel between the river and MLK. Mayor Lee Leffingwell urges city council members to accept the plan and run with it. Leffingwell points to the Y at Oak Hill and says that project has been delayed 20 years and still dealing with congestion because people are arguing about the details of it.” 

“A couple of months ago in this space I wrote about local architect Sinclair Black’s effort to move Interstate 35 underground as it passes by downtown Austin…I stopped short of characterizing Black’s idea as wacky — he’s been pushing it in various forms since the 1990s — but didn’t give it much chance of catching fire. Well, not so fast, transportation boy.”

“An extreme renovation of about a mile and a half of I-35 in downtown Austin and putting it underground with a cap would need to satisfy regional requirements. The CAMPO group would have to sign off on it.  But Maureen McCoy, the head of that agency with the super-long name, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, says it’s viable. McCoy says the feds could embrace it as long as the region and the state decides it is best, and as long as it meets or exceeds the minimum standards for an interstate highway.”

  •  KLBJ Newsroom: CAMPO head says I-35 ‘cut and cap’ is viable

“Putting I-35 underground through downtown Austin is not out of the picture as far as the head of the CAMPO group is concerned.  They’re in charge of divvying out highway dollars for the Austin region. Maureen McCoy says if regional leaders agree to it, it could be a reality if funding is found. “We do look at the performance of the transportation system as a whole, at the regional level. I’m not sure at this point in time how much that section would play into the regional total,” McCoy says. The tunnel would be about one-point-three miles long, from MLK to the river, with park land on top.”

“It may seem like a colossal undertaking, but the Austin City Council has voted to look into putting a section of Interstate 35 underground. Known as “cut and cap,” engineers would dig underground, then cover the road. And as for all of that newly cleared land on top of the tunnel? Plans include incorporating parks, restaurants and other mixed-use development on the “urban boulevard.”

“At the council work session June 18, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said that he feels like the cut and cap option is the “gold standard” for I-35 improvements, but he is worried about barriers to the project. ‘I can see that the cut proposal is pretty well accepted if [it] can be done in a way where you can go back sometime later and cap it after all this stuff is done, but I think our direction needs to be full speed ahead on improving congestion on I-35,’ Leffingwell said. “Anything that impedes that, I’m very concerned about’…

“Councilman Chris Riley said he views the cut and cap plan potential option to seriously address traffic needs based the financial implications of the project. ‘I don’t view this as just some unrealistic effort to beautify the corridor,’ Riley said. ‘I view this as basic transportation infrastructure that is trying to provide a solution to a very challenging problem of increasing mobility through the central part of our city but doing that in a way that balances that need with other objectives.'”

“Councilman Mike Martinez said at the work session that even though the project could have a positive economic effect on the area due to new land being able to be developed, the plan could have some negative repercussions to the surrounding communities.”

“The City of Austin wants to “cut and cap” I-35. The plan would be to bury the interstate and put a park or boulevard on top…

“The main thing to recognize is that we are trying to tackle congestion and TxDOT is doing that. At the same time consider other options as a better design with the cut and cap,” said (Sheryl) Cole…Cole tells us the solution could boost businesses in the area.

“That’s something food truck owner Josie Paredes is interested in. She says I-35 is bad for business at La Fantabulous on Rainey Street and something needs to be done. ‘Traffic is pretty bad even during lunch. By four or five o’clock for happy hour you can’t find a space in the front or anywhere around,’ said Paredes. She says if I-35 went underground and people could walk above ground, it could solve access issues. “If people could just bike here, park there,” she said.

“Another benefit to the cut and cap, Cole says, is it could increase home values. ‘We have had support from the Sierra Club, from urban design groups and many other community members that are interesting in stitching together the neighborhoods of the east and west that is divided by I-35,’ said Cole.”

“The idea to ‘cut and cap’ I-35 through downtown Austin that’s been discussed for quite a while in business circles is moving from a pie-in-the-sky idea to a potentially viable option for long-term transportation planning…The idea to cut and cap I-35 has been around for several years, but was passed over by TxDOT in the past. Since then, the city has changed, argued Sinclair Black and Allen Green in an Austin-American Statesman editorial today.

“A few months ago the ABJ gave the issue some serious attention via this blog. Like many, I was skeptical. That’s not to say it couldn’t be a great asset to downtown Austin, but instead that its novelty shouldn’t grant it precedence over other options. Transportation solutions are complex projects that require lots of study – and lots of money. Planners owe it to the region to evaluate them all carefully. It seems that process has started.”

“In a city whose notoriously gridlocked traffic was recently ranked the fourth-worst in the nation, Austinites have been eager to consider Black’s plan. He spoke with the Alcalde about why he thinks tunneling I-35 underground and redeveloping the surface with real estate, parks, and city streets could completely change the city…

Alcalde: “You’ve been talking about this plan since 1996, but now people are listening. What’s changed?

“It’s not that people’s attitudes have changed, it’s that TxDOT has changed. They’re $13 billion in debt. Because of that, they’re in a learning mode. We’re working together with them in a way that wasn’t possible before. Imagine a football field. It used to be that me, council members, organizational leaders at every level, we were all standing on one goal line and TxDOT was standing on the other goal line, with absolutely nothing in common. Now they’ve moved 90 yards closer to us. We’re not all the way there, but they’re listening and trying to be responsive to what the community wants…

Alcalde: “Describe the response Reconnect Austin has gotten so far.

“We’ve taken this plan to more than 1,000 people, and I haven’t gotten one negative response so far. Not one. The public is absolutely 100 percent behind this idea. Everyone hates I-35, everyone can grasp this idea because we’ve all been stuck in traffic there. So while I know there will be obstacles, I’m very optimistic about our chances of getting this done.”

tear it down

“The era of highway expansion and urban renewal is viewed negatively today due to the many unintended consequences that have created lasting damage and inequality. Since the 1970s, cities have reexamined those choices and many have sought to regain lost commodities. Cities like Portland, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and, most famously, Boston, have removed segments of downtown freeway to reconnect their waterfronts, provide greenspace, and rejoin neighborhoods that were separated for decades by concrete barriers. Generally speaking, this has been enormously successful, sparking economic revitalization of once derelict downtowns and providing new public spaces to enhance the quality of life for urban residents.

“Republic of Austin fully endorses the sinking of I-35. The temporary inconvenience of construction is far outweighed by the impact this has on future generations of Austinites. Not only will the city receive critical new downtown space for public and private use, it will also create am aesthetically pleasing, safer urban core for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. And let’s face it, this can reconnect East and West Austin in a way that goes beyond just putting up ‘ribs’ on a freeway. Maybe they’ll add some rail.”

“Cut and cap is part of a proposal called Reconnect Austin. The design was submitted by the Austin architecture firm Black + Vernooy. And it’s a design worth looking at. I-35 doesn’t have any room to grow on either side through downtown. The Reconnect Austin design calls for the upper decks to be taken down and the roadway tunneled all the way to River Street.

“I-35 has long served as a barrier that has divided Austin both racially and economically. Removing it and replacing it with tree lined streets might go a long way in resolving the whole East-West thing. Old neighborhoods would reconnect, and new development opportunities would arise.

“The Texas Department of Transportation is also interested. One of the solutions they are considering calls for ‘fully depressed main lanes through downtown.‘”

“The idea is being tossed around in tandem with designs for Waller Creek, which are about to be approved by Council. City leaders say putting Interstate 35 in an underground tunnel from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Lady Bird Lake began about 20 years ago, but have been dormant until recently.

“Mayor Lee Leffingwell said whatever state and federal transportation leaders decide to do, it must be part of the region’s long-term plan.

“‘The number-one objective is to try to get some kind of congestion relief on I-35. That needs to be an expedited process,’ Leffingwell said. ‘We’ve got to be focused on taking the limited funds that are available and making sure that they have an effect on that entire area.'”

“This morning, the Austin City Council met to debate the worthiness of approving an economic impact analysis for the ‘Cut & Cap’ plan. This Thursday, the Council will vote on a resolution that would study the plan’s financial viability.

“Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, had this to say about the potential design: ‘Cities across the country are engaging in innovative approaches to the design and use of their aging highway infrastructure and seeing them as opportunities for new boulevards and parks. As a result, neighborhoods have been stitched back together, noise and smog have been reduced, and real estate values have increased. TXDoT is currently considering various mobility scenarios that increase our transportation capacity and the city is interested in maximizing the options under consideration to include new approaches.'”

“In order to relieve congestion on I35, TxDOT is exploring possible  improvements to mobility on I35 at  key points, including between MLK and Lady Bird Lake.  Proposed plans being  considered include a fully elevated highway and a sunken highway.  Another solution known as cut & cap’ has been proposed by  architect Sinclair Black.  That idea involves sinking I35 and covering it with a  continuous cap. Tuesday, Austin city council members discussed the ‘cut & cap.’

“It’s in very close proximity to Waller Creek.  With that project going  forward, it could play a role in enhancing development around Waller Creek,”  said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“The cut and cap plan would essentially connect East Austin to downtown, the  way the city was before I35 was built.  That’s one reason why Mayor Pro Tem  Cheryl Cole and council member Chris Riley support the idea.”

“Remember when the idea of putting part of I-35—that congested, frustrating, city-dividing highway that cuts right through the middle of Austin—underground was first floated? The ‘Cut & Cap’ plan would put the interstate from Red River Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard underground and use the surface for ‘mixed-use development, parks, and an urban boulevard.’

“And then today, KUT reports, the City Council met to discuss whether to allow for an economic impact analysis to be done on local architecture firm Sinclair Black’s plan…The design’s scope has undergone some rebranding in the interim as a way to ‘reconnect’ east and west Austin. Fair enough. And it seems like the City Council, including Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, are inclined to like that kind of idea.”

“The traffic jams on Interstate 35 through Downtown Austin are legendary and annoying to many who drive the stretch of highway on a regular basis.

“A new proposal put together by architect Sinclair Black hopes to turn a divider into a community space that would tie the area together.

“‘The plan is more about the city than about the road,’ said Black. ‘The idea is to reconnect East- and West Austin, which has been brutally divided by the highway. Everybody knows that and nobody knows what do to about it.’

“Sinclair’s plan includes taking eight lanes of traffic on I-35 from 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake and moving them underground. The lanes would be capped above the freeway, allowing 30 acres to be utilized for mixed-use development and an urban boulevard.

“The proposal would also eliminate the need for several lanes of access roads parallel to the highway.

“‘The access roads are no longer needed,’ Black said. ‘They become an urban boulevard that travels the whole distance.'”

“The Congress for New Urbanism, the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association are among the civic groups that have expressed support for the cut-and-cap plan.

“Mitch McGovern, president of the DANA board of directors, said the proposal would benefit the community by eliminating the barrier that splits Central Austin into east and west. DANA wrote a letter to TxDOT endorsing the plan, McGovern said.

“Thomas Butler, the transportation director for the DAA, added that the plan would generate additional property tax that would benefit the entire city.

“Under the proposal, sinking and capping I-35 would unlock 30 acres for mixed-use development and generate $929 million in new property tax revenue over 25 years, Black estimates.

“‘Development on those new acres would provide new money for the city to use for parks, libraries and police in neighborhoods all over the city,’ Butler said…

“Cid Galindo, the president of the Congress for New Urbanism Central Texas board of directors, said while the proposal would be expensive, it is the best I-35 long-term plan because it is the only one that would generate new property tax revenue.

“‘The best solution is the least expensive solution, and how often do you get to do that in the transportation world?’ he said.”

“The first rule of brainstorming is that there are no dumb ideas. There are, however, old ideas, and Austin architect Sinclair Black’s suggestion that Interstate 35 be buried through downtown has been around in some form since at least 1996. Black himself was one of the suggesters back then as was, oddly enough, the Texas Department of Transportation…

“The American-Statesman splashed the concept all over the front page in June 1996 with the headline, ‘I-35 underground?’ Black, whose views about urban development have influenced a generation of city politicians and staff, wanted to sink the road below ground from East 15th Street to north of the Colorado River, a distance of about a mile. The only entrance and exit ramps were to be at East 15th and East Cesar Chavez streets, with boulevard-like streets at ground level to serve local traffic…Black’s proposal now (which some local media have been treating as brand-new) differs from what came before basically in that he wants to throw dirt over the buried freeway. And make part of it tolled.

“Black suggests that I-35 in these 14 blocks be dug deeper and expanded from three to four lanes in each direction, with the two added lanes having tolls. Running up above would be the boulevard, with north and south lanes much closer to each other than the current frontage road lanes. There would be a 10.6-acre park in the median and some development on the rest of the TxDOT-owned land alongside the boulevard.

“He also envisions even more development springing up alongside the park and boulevard/freeway, which now has some large and valuable development in spots but mostly is lined by property not, in development lingo, at the highest and best use.”

“So here I am in 2013 a resident of Austin and part of the problem. I drive the roads every day. Most of my consternation now is directed at Mopac Expressway, which is a hellish place to be Friday at 6 p.m. Make that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — you get the picture.

“And the question remains: What are we to do about this impossible gridlock?

“Sinclair Black, an architect and urban planner, proposes that we bury I-35 through the heart of downtown, widen it underground and create parks and other neighborhood developments over the top. Ingenious. Instead of blowing Black’s vision off as some unrealistic notion, I think thoughtful policymakers ought to give it due attention.

“The more I think about, the better I like it, deserving of intense scrutiny.”

“Sinclair Black’s idea to sink and then build on top of I-35 through Austin is the latest — and one of the most ambitious — plan to bring Austin’s transportation system into the future.

“Black, who heads well known local architecture firm Black + Vernooy, has proposed putting I-35 underground from Lady Bird Lake to 15th Street and building mixed-use development, parks and an urban boulevard above it. Think of Boston’s ‘Big Dig’ — but without the financial fiasco and blown deadlines, Black would probably tell you.

Black has been discussing the plan with city officials since March, and told Community Impact Newspaper that it would be a better alternative than “expanding I-35 above ground.”

“‘This concept is kind of new and fresh,’ said North Austin resident Roderick Smothers, who avoids driving on the interstate when he commutes to work at Huston-Tillotson University. ‘Getting on I-35 is one of the things I avoid doing every day.’

“The plan, which is one among many the City of Austin is considering, would turn the existing interstate from Lady Bird Lake to 15th Street into parks and mixed-use development. Another potential impact of putting I-35 underground and covering it above ground, is alleviating that physical barrier between the ‘east side’ and ‘west side,’ potentially eliminating a socio-economic barrier.

“‘One way to address that misnomer that things are good over here and bad over here is to just get rid of it,'” said Smothers.

“‘That would be a wonderful bonus, because it does separate people,” an Austin resident told KVUE.”

“A plan proposed by urban designer and architect Sinclair Black would sink I-35 underground from Lady Bird Lake to 15th Street, place a cap above the interstate and turn the land I-35 now occupies into mixed-use development, an urban boulevard and parkland. Black, who began seriously discussing the plan with city leaders and groups in March, said the cut and cap plan would be a significantly better alternative to expanding I-35 above ground.

“‘People need to know that they need to choose between a perpetuation of the barrier that we have in the building of more elevated [I-35] freeway lanes or to take a deep breath and solve the problem once and for all and forever, he said.”

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