PROJECT BACKGROUND & FACT SHEET
In 2004, a diverse group of citizens, businesses, and neighborhood leaders formed the I-35 Makeover Coalition to help transform this area into a public asset. They began working for a safe, clean and attractive gateway reconnecting downtown to East Austin. This area was a broad boulevard called Eastside Drive until postwar era, when IH-35 was built over it in a series of elevated and buried sections.
The Makeover Coalition provided the support necessary to improve this connection between downtown and the east side of Austin. The coalition obtained a grant of $250,000 from Keep Austin Beautiful (KAB) to help fund the landscape portion.
City Council approved two funding sources for this project. They first approved a resolution in March, 2005 explicitly supporting the use of parking revenue from the City-managed IH-35 parking lots for the IH-35 Makeover Project. In March of 2007, City Council passed a resolution setting aside $1.5 million to be provided by the future issuance of non-tax supported certificates of obligation.
These funding sources have allowed the City to move forward with the IH-35 Makeover Project, which will include reconstructing the parking lot areas, with curb and gutters to improve drainage in the area. The concrete will be cleaned, signs removed and replaced, and specialty lighting fixtures will enhance the safety, comfort, and aesthetics of the area.
The lighting project will be done through the City’s Art in Public Places Program and will be programmed LED lights in arches over the parking lots. A computer-generated illumination will create a show as well as create safe lighting.
The project is expected to start in June and take approximately seven months, at which time TXDot will begin the landscape improvements funded through the KAB grant.
Part 1 of 2 Parts – The Overview
If you browsed the Austin American-Statesman or Austin Business Journal yesterday, no doubt you saw the headlines:
At first glance, it might sound like an appealing proposition, this Boardwalk project. What’s not to like?
The term “boardwalk” itself conjures up images of a pretty little wooden footbridge traversing burbling creeks and meandering through soggy sections of beautiful dense forest. It’s a project of the Parks Department, and we all do love our parks, yes?
Finding a way to “extend” Downtown Austin’s wonderful riverfront hike-bike path through one of the sections where it currently follows a narrow sidewalk along a busy road, Riverside Drive — well, that sounds like a no-brainer, too, right? At least to those of us who frequent the Town Lake Trail multiple times a week.
(Sidenote for those of you paying attention: City Council changed the name of the urban portion of the river from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake after the former First Lady and Trail Founder passed away in 2007. The name of “the simple walking path along the shore” that she envisioned back in 1971 is still called the Town Lake Trail in Parks Department materials. Hard to tell what to properly call it.)
And $85 million, though it’s a big number for a still-sluggish economic recovery, nevertheless is a comparatively small chunk of change when you apply that spend against a truckload of “transportation projects”. Concrete and asphalt don’t come cheap.
To find the serious problems in this equation I’m afraid there’s no substitute for having to dive into the details. As with so many of life’s problems and issues, that’s where the devil is hiding. Let’s take a look.
First off there’s the topline math. $16 million for a single project — one that is a luxury add and carries no financial ROI with it — out of a total $85 million bonding capacity. That’s almost one-fifth of the total ask! For just one project. According to the ABJ story, the Transportation Department and the Bond Review Task Force were charged with evaluating 500 projects that had to be divided into “A,” “B” and “C” categories.
The “A” list of “highest priority” projects added up to about 45 and still carried an estimated total cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, three to four times the total bonding capacity. Somehow the Boardwalk, in its totality, made it to the further shortened list of “A” projects left standing. What about the other 480 or so projects? What about all the other regions of the city and their transportation, sidewalk, pothole and trail needs?
Then there is the matter of the Boardwalk project itself. While it hasn’t been an entirely secretive endeavor, its details have been less than well publicized or understood by the broad Austin citizenry, that’s for sure. For the past three years, this project has been marching its determined way through the city conceptual and design process, rubber-stamped by two unanimous city councils every step of the way, and fueled by almost $4.3 million in dedicated allocations out of the past couple city budgets. For the past year, that’s been a reported spend rate of about $40,000 per week for consultants, plans and documentation.
Next let’s check out this purported Boardwalk and find out what it’s really made of using the City’s own slides from its presentation decks. The following pictures are quite self-explanatory.
How can this be?
There are no boards in this boardwalk!
The entire battleship structure is made of concrete and steel!
And it’s out IN the friggin’ river!
And that, friends, is how we end up with something like THIS rather than the “simple walking path along the shore” that Lady Bird Johnson had sought.
Can’t help but wonder: what would she think of all this?
Though about a year out of date now, what information the city has provided on this project can be found here. There is some bare bones stuff there about the proposed routing, construction materials and answers to about 20 FAQs. Check it out.
EVERY Downtown Austin condo tower and parking garage should apply to get one of these. FREE while supplies last!
From the June 2nd Statesman story: “Electric vehicles aren’t yet common on Austin roads. But recharging stations could start showing up on local streets and in home garages later this year. A Silicon Valley-based company has received a $15 million federal stimulus grant to provide, for free, nearly 5,000 charging stations in Austin and eight other areas across the country. Businesses and homeowners alike can apply to receive one of the stations. Austin is one of nine regions serving as a kind of pilot for the charging stations.” READ MORE HERE
Thanks to Chris Schorre at the Downtown Commission for this.
“Generally, prices are around $5-7 M-W and around $8-10 Thursday, Friday and weekends. NOTE: Parking is free on downtown streets after 5:30PM daily and on weekends so you can ignore those Pay to Park signs during those times.”
I’m quoted in this week’s ABJ regarding a transit system for downtown Austin. The question is: “Does Austin need a better downtown transportation system, and what should it consist of? Would you use it?”
“Absolutely. Additional parking and reliance on cars is not a sustainable method of growing Austin, much less downtown. Mobility inside of downtown is distinct from mobility to and from downtown, and the two systems should be designed and operated accordingly.
Commuter Rail – the Red Line - is NOT the same technology as a tram or streetcar system. The media must be diligent about choosing the correct terminology and avoid bundling terms, lest the word “rail” becomes the next four-letter word in Austin.”
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) is presenting the three possible concepts for investing in the transportation system between now and 2035.
Give your feedback here and help positively impact Central Texas for decades to come!
Thanks to the Thomas Butler with the DAA for the link!
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.
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.
City of Austin Transportation Director, Rob Spillar, has been in the news recently presenting the reality of central Austin roads. No new roads can be constructed inside Central Austin. We need to quickly implement signal timing efficiencies wherever possible. Further we must acknowledge that central Austin roads are at full capacity and embark upon new modes of transportation. I like Rob’s approach, lest we become culpable observers for worsening city problems.
The ABJ is reporting on a resurgence in the discussion for central Austin rail system. I like Mark Littlefield’s quote:
“Mark Littlefield, a public affairs political consultant, said the entity chosen to run the proposed rail system will be an important aspect in determining how voters stomach a potential bond vote. The economy will also factor in, he said.
‘We could have, hypothetically, the most economically, financially responsible plan that makes the most transportation sense and could solve every traffic problem in Austin forever, but if it’s going to be run by Cap Metro, it would have a difficult time passing,’ he said.”
You might have already heard this rumor circling through various blogs and discussion boards. Clearly the Dillo is a downtown-centric service. As a frequent rider of the Dillo, I can attest to the fact that there were never many riders sharing the bus with me. I’ve often thought that by extending the 6th Street Dillo route into East Austin and beyond Whole Foods (for, instance Comal to Mopac) would encourage more ridership.
What CapMetro did right:
-The Dillo is inexpensive to ride.
-The Dillo route is easy to remember
-The Dillo 5-minute headway was very convenient
I find it irrational that they would consider killing the Dillo before the Metro Rail has even begun. If the Metro Rail is a success, then this will trickle down to the Dillo. The Dillo would have been a transfer bus to get from Red River to Lamar.
The City of Austin has posted a video of the new parking meters with instructions on how to use them. The kiosk style meters are solar powered and accept credit cards – nice! I’ve always believed the mechanical parking meters contributed to urban blight in a small way. I also make a point to never carry change so the credit card option will be very useful.