The future of Interstate 35 through downtown Austin hasn’t looked particularly bright over the last few years, as the slow development of plans by state transportation agency TxDOT to widen the highway come into unflattering focus. We’ve previously described the possibility of an expanded I-35 — with the obvious frustrations of its extended construction period, likely failure to solve traffic congestion, and the required demolition of more than 100 properties inside the interstate’s enlarged path — as a “generational failure” waiting to happen, and that’s largely still true.
But giving up on the city’s collective ability to push back and improve what’s imagined for I-35 isn’t really an option as long as we all live here, and despite its general reputation for obstinance TxDOT has shown at least a slight vulnerability to public opinion by now favoring a design option that lowers the highway through the central city, which would allow the city to construct those vaunted “caps” and “stitches” creating more meaningful connections over the highway. (It’s rhetorically fascinating that those two words, cap and stitch, are almost never seen in these official discussions without quotation marks around them, but let’s try to stay positive.)
To that end, the City of Austin and the Downtown Austin Alliance are set to host a public open house on the future of I-35 this Saturday, discussing the DAA’s Cap and Stitch planning effort for creating new public spaces over the highway. We foresee a lot of folks casting bedroom eyes at Klyde Warren Park up in Dallas, one of the most publicly successful modifications of a highway and not a bad project to emulate, although more examples have shown up recently. Here’s some info on the event courtesy of the DAA — finish your drink when you read “AI tech art house.”
The City of Austin, in partnership with Downtown Austin Alliance, will host a public open house at Native Hostel on Saturday, Aug. 27 starting at 10 a.m., to discuss Our Future 35–Austin’s Cap and Stitch Program, an initiative to build new city infrastructure and co-create public spaces over the I-35 highway. The event will include conversations with local creatives, advocates, and community leaders, as well as interactive stations curated by local artists.
The public is invited to join for discussions and refreshments about past and future engagement efforts, upcoming involvement opportunities, as well as the opportunity to provide input on the project’s vision, goals and objectives. The event is free to attend.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is proposing to widen and lower portions of I-35 through central Austin. This provides an opportunity for the City to bridge East and West Austin–physically, socially, and economically–through new “caps” and “stitches.” The project would make important strides toward unifying and mending the divide created by the original construction of I-35.
Working alongside and in collaboration with TxDOT’s freeway project, Our Future 35–Austin’s Cap and Stitch Program–is a community-centered effort to co-create new public spaces over I-35 to connect all Austinites.
Event programming will include activations featuring Ami Plasse, FANCHY Art, an AI tech art house, Justin Humphrey and Ray Price with Notes for Notes. There will also be a presentation with insights from community partners, the City of Austin, and TxDOT. Visit the event registration page for a schedule of events and to register to participate.
From what we’ve seen of the very early cap and stitch ideas so far, we’re concerned by their limited size and scope, with only a few sections of the highway near downtown shown capped with what will presumably become parkland, and the “stitch” section of the concept just improving the streetscapes of roads crossing the highway with better sidewalks and bike lanes — which isn’t a bad thing, but falls a bit short of the concept of meaningfully connecting both sides of the city.
— James Rambin (@jamesrambin) May 4, 2022
While it’s unclear precisely how deep Saturday’s event will dig into such issues, we would really like our readers to show up and politely hammer these folks about improving this highway — not to mention how we might pay for the cuts and caps considering the state’s pretty clearly not gonna jump on the hook, or what the city is doing to consider the input of organizations like Reconnect Austin and Rethink35 pushing various concepts for the highway far beyond TxDOT’s limited imaginations. We promise we wouldn’t ask you to burn a nice Saturday morning if this didn’t matter.