I-35 Makeover Project Approved & Funded

cross section of I35 showing soon-to-be-installed lighting

Downtown Austin’s stretch of I-35 will receive some much needed improvements, confirming our report from September of last year.  Short of burying or capping I-35, these improvements are the best we can hope for.  A grant from Keep Austin Beautiful (KAB) will contribute $250,000 towards the landscaping.  City Council set aside $1.5MM in form of non-tax supported certificates of obligation (bonds, I guess?).  Revenues from the parking underneath the freeway (which will be completely redesigned) will also fund the project.

The project is expected to start in June and take approximately seven months.

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Below is a photo of Eastside Drive East Avenue, the boulevard predecessor of I35.

East Avenue before I-35

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.

Comments

  1. avatar Steve R says:

    Calling things appalling is the sort of actions that make people think you’re just another planner who knows better than they do. I don’t disagree with your vision, although I’m not convinced on the cost front. $250k, for this project, is just a fraction of the current study on I-35 by the city which is only looking for smaller, short term fixes and improvements, let alone the millions and decades it would take to plan a buried highway, let alone construct it.
    Based on the history of Austin that I have picked up, no one has demonstrated that sort of vision for the long term in the last 25 years. The current (the old) I-35 is almost progressive because other traditional forces of Texas highway development would have already had a 12 lane monster in place, even further dividing the corridor. Austin seems to be an example of compromises that reflect the combination of environmentalism, NIMBYism and Texas’s love for bigger and faster highways that only seems to occur in Austin itself. the current debates over the city comprehensive plan continue this fight, if you read up on the imagine austin efforts. Even the metrorail red line is an embodiment of the compromise path that has been followed to date in Austin. Austin should have had comprehensive light rail/urban rail based on the 2000 proposal, but events by players local and at the state government killed that plan, resulting in the red line commuter rail that even FTA wouldn’t participate in funding.
    I think you’re giving Austin too much credit for being environmentally friendly and connected, when it seems the real history is significantly more complicated than that, and there is no shared vision to speak of, to date.

  2. It is appalling that Austin would consider keeping this outdated infrastructure. The Congress for the New Urbanism has done incredible research on the negative economic impact of raised highways – and the subsequent reversal of riches that ensues when there is a teardown and redesign. The program is called Highways to Boulevards: http://www.cnu.org/highways

    We are well on our way to tearing down an expressway here in New Orleans, and Dallas is initiating a process now. What happened to the Austin that leads the state in creativity and “great place?”

    Ann Daigle
    CNU-NTX Ambassador
    NewCity Partnership of New Orleans

    • avatar Steve R says:

      appalling? do you have the money to put up those kinds of fixes? an early proposal just to make Cesar Chavez @ I-35 to both underpasses for the mainlanes with intersection improvements could cost up to $100 million. that’s one intersection, half of which is already an underpass.
      http://www.austin-mobility.com/corridor-development-i-35
      sure $250k in lighting and a parking lot isn’t ideal, but it’s a cheap fix and does feel nicer now.
      Sure it’d be nice to have a wide boulevard back, but that doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation, Austin doesn’t come close to having the development on both sides of the freeway that Dallas had, and Dallas was also helped by the section being depressed to begin with. Maybe, maybe in 40 or 50 years if the waller creak improvements take hold and big time development comes to the area between red river and I-35, would you see some realistic demand to do something else. Until then, I’m all for the city doing what it can to improve traffic in the existing configuration and improving the bicycle and pedestrian connectivity across the corridor.

      • Actually, it is not more expensive (less so in the long run) to take down infrastructure that is past its prime and requires continual expensive maintenance. Resulting new development on what was once wasted land can raise property and sales tax revenue that is so great that a government should tear it down for this reason alone. Which infrastructure captures more value and returns it to the community? Not just capital, but functionality, beauty and quality of life should all be part of the equation. These highway lariats choke cities’ potential all around the country. Check out the research on CNU’s website for more data and facts…

        • Ann – welcome and thank you for participating!

          The tone of your post(s) is very dogmatic. I’ve read about highway to blvd conversions. I am a great admirer of CNU. I don’t see any local CNU leaders willing to instigate and diligently pursue what you’re proposing. I’d love to be wrong on this.

          I35 is the most utilized road in Austin, Texas. To Steve’s point, it’s just not practical to remove it, or bury it, (whichever you’re suggesting) in the current economic and political climate. Also, East Austin has gentrified and developed in spite of the highway.

        • Sorry, Jude and all, I do not mean to be dogmatic. Just get impatient with integrated solutions that are rational but ignored. It’s the antiquated “system” of TX DOT, money and politics that get in the way. I passionately believe that if all the cards were on the table the path would be clear. In New Orleans we built a grass roots coalition and asked CNU for assistance. We’ve been successful in bringing together all stripes in our community (the secret to success). We are just beginning in Dallas (much higher hurdles than Austin!). In the 70’s Austin was a great and connected place with seeds of disrepair. In the 80’s, the 90’s, and in this past decade it is clear those seeds have grown substantially despite considerable private investment. At some point someone has to stand up for a reversal of the auto-centric trend which is an economic nightmare. Stopping funds from window-dressing 20th Century mistakes in order to forge 21st Century solutions seems to me a first step. It is amazing, the bold advancements people can accomplish when they come together over a vision and shared goal. Denver is a good example. Will watch for your progress and wonderful posts!

  3. The old road is “East Avenue”, not “Eastside Drive”.

  4. I swapped a couple of emails with Brewster McCracken last year about this project, he was one of its big proponents. Brewster confirmed that it’s a long-term plan (say 10-25 years from now) to give Austin its own version of the Big Dig and bury I-35 from the river to the upper deck.

    The final version would be great, but I’ll probably just leave town for five years to avoid the construction entirely.

  5. Jude, what’s the latest on Waller Creek project? Is that approved and funded as well?

  6. avatar geoffrey smith says:

    Jude , I really enjoy your site and appreciate the time and effort that you put into it , it is very informative and has brought insight on projects and the Austin area going ons … keep up the good work … Geoff …

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