For Real This Time: The I-35 Makeover Is Happening

For Real This Time: The I-35 Makeover Is Happening

I-35 Makeover, Day Perspective

I-35 Makeover, Day Perspective

In 2006, neighborhood associations on both sides of the interstate were empowered to develop a concept to enhance East-West pedestrian movement beneath I-35.  The vision was to take what is the most trafficked overpass in Austin, and create a landscape that is lighter and smaller in scale than the one currently dominated by the car.

The downtown Austin segment of I-35 was constructed in 1962 and served to physically reinforce the racial divide that East Avenue had historically represented.

Now, the City of Austin leases from the State the land below the I-35 freeway.  The area is uninviting to say the least.  As part of the makeover, that area will remain parking, while the perimeter and sidewalks connecting East Side to downtown will get something closer to the “Great Streets” treatment including trees, wider sidewalks, and benches.

From Cotera+Reed Architects:

“Fourteen curved and tapered galvanized steel poles will be supported under the freeway deck, and area lighting is attached along the undersides. Individually, the shape of the poles resembles a suspension bridge – re-associating the spot with connecting. Connecting land masses, across an interruption of the landscape, proposing the idea of separation and connecting at the same time. It is intended to be a gesture – a handshake under the freeway.”

Construction is scheduled to begin as early as February 2010.


I-35, night perspective

I-35 Makeover, Night Perspective

About Jude Galligan

Jude Galligan, REALTOR, Principal of TOWERS Realty and publisher of Downtown Austin Blog (aka. "DAB"), spends his time matching remarkable people with remarkable properties in Austin’s urban core. A resident owner in downtown Austin, Jude has served on the Board of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the City of Austin Downtown Commission. Contact Jude.


  1. Gary, you’re making it way too complicated. This is the only sentence of mine that you really need to think about:

    “So we’ll get one good sidewalk with art above it instead of five good sidewalks?”

  2. Wait, M1EK, isn’t this a sensible, much needed “Sidewalk”, Safety, and Economic Development project, that will directly benefit Art.

    To me, these slender light poles appear to be a fairly low-cost way to create a safely lit, pleasant passageway under IH 35. And it does bring people over to an area that is increasing becoming home to the creative, art based businesses that bring the economic benefits we so enjoy in our little town packed full of artistic, creative people.

    It’s currently a butt ugly spot. I don’t want to walk under there, but the light poles remind me of a little trick local restaurants used, for a while … running a perfect 4 x 4 pattern of white string under a ceiling full of mechanical ugliness painted flat black, giving the illusion, unless you looked real close, of a black tile ceiling. I would walk under this new “bridge”.

    This also applies directly to one of the Austin Music issues I’m currently involved with; a new flexible, multi-day Sound Permit, and the evolution of the entertainment district to the near East Side of the current Central Business District, east of the historical socio-economic divide that is IH 35.

    The new concentration of entertainment venues that have emerged are playing a big part in the discussion that will eventually (soon?) produce a revised, much needed, multi-day Permit, as part of the existing Noise & Sound Ordinance.

    The go-ahead with this passageway signals to me that the City’s is doing their best to accommodate the people drawn to the new art and business being created, in that wonderfully accessible area, directly adjacent to the current CBD, and the rest of Downtown Austin.

    (Full disclosure – I have pulled the Permits for the annual Levi’s event, during SxSW, since 2003. I scouted the Pine Street Station location, where the 2009-’10 Levi’s – Fader event was produced. Named and helped get Pine Street Station permitted for the venue’s other many, varied events, including the weekly H.O.P.E Farmer’s Market. Also, assisted Transmission Entertainment with their permits for MWTX 2010)

    During SxSW 2009, when the Levi – Fader Fort set up at Pine Street Station, people walked, biked, and rode pedicabs, in droves, under the freeway to the East Side, to attend that very popular event, at a brand new venue for live music. I have many pictures, taken at the peak of the 2009 event, and there is almost no vehicular traffic in the area, in any direction.

    When MWTX, in 2010, after several perfectly successful years at Waterloo Park, moved to the site of the current East Side Drive-In, due to an agreement between Park & Rec and the SxSW orgnanizers (?), the pedestrian traffic under IH 35 increased, but vehicle traffic didn’t, as far as I know. (Advocates of NO new Sound Permit, at all, are claiming massive safety problems in the area east of IH 35 during SxSW 2010, but no one at the Music Commission meeting of Nov 1st seemed to have heard anything about it.

    Those lighted passageways are, in my opinion, a needed safety feature, to address a natural evolution of the footprint of the downtown entertainment district.

  3. Pat, I know when it’s scheduled to be done. I have my doubts. (I was involved very early on in this process on the UTC and am still bitter over the NW arm debacle).

  4. Pfluger bridge is scheduled to be finished when the Gables project wraps up.

  5. M1EK brings up a good point re: Lamar. Fortunately, we have the benefit of hindsight. The motivation here, as I understand it and stated above, is to bring Great Streets and improved lighting to the entire perimeter of the overpass – that would be an amazing shift.

    The I-35 overpass will be around for a very long time and we need to make it a better place for pedestrians.

    “while the perimeter and sidewalks connecting East Side to downtown will get something closer to the “Great Streets” treatment including trees, wider sidewalks, and benches.”

  6. Oh and wrt the Lamar art debacle, the sidewalks there are still Muy Awful, of course, with no Pfluger bridge extension in sight to make up for it.

  7. austinandrew says

    the spears look like they’re designed to impale cars that fly off the roadway

  8. I think you’re being pessimistic about the number of people who care about sidewalks. There’s a lot of moderate-density infill happening on the east side near I-35; people who are likely to want to walk under I-35 to get downtown (if we ever get Waller Creek cleaned up). The quantity of good sidewalks in this area is so highly lacking that, again, I can’t see a reasonable reason to pay for art in this spot. So we’ll get one good sidewalk with art above it instead of five good sidewalks?

  9. I see it as a positive development. It should be noted also that as this funding/planning cycle completes, the same committee is tasked with the other I-35 underpasses downtown. I believe they will be tackling the 4th st. underpass next.

  10. Agreed: completely useless. The only way the death-trap, eye-sore that is I-35 could possibly be improved is if it no longer existed (a la, was buried, like the Big Dig in Boston). What a waste of resources.

  11. The reason we got the Lamar art was because we don’t spend enough on public art and so what we get is so conservative it can’t possibly please anyone.

    In a town where most artist work unpaid, the fact that we’re paying large sums of money for conservative art is the problem. Not the fact that we’re paying for art.

    Look at the grafitti art along the North East side of the hike and bike trail for an example of cheap art that makes people realise there’s a value to the public space. A space with art is inviting and people take pride in it. I think the number of people who take pride in sidewalks begins with me and ends with you.

  12. Every dollar spent on art for a freeway underpass is a dollar that could be spent on more sidewalks – and when we don’t even have sidewalks on every block downtown, we haven’t yet reached the point where we should be spending that one dollar on downtown art.

    (I bet the art costs a lot more than the sidewalks in this project, BTW).

    This is the Lamar blue signs all over again, methinks.

  13. Yeah, I’ve got to disagree also. If anything there’s far too little art money in this project.

  14. M1EK, this project is largely about sidewalk improvements, so I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

  15. god, what a joke. How about we redirect all this stupid art money into actual sidewalk improvements instead?

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