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.
One option is to walk the edge of the waterline and pickup trash from the land. If you’d like to work it from the water itself, canoes and kayaks are also available (loaned by our local schools/clubs).
Trash bags and grabbers are provided at several staging areas along the river. The whole event is organized by Keep Austin Beautiful with help from the Sierra Club and many others.
Full details and registration can be found here.
It’s a great way to meet like-minded new folks and know that you are doing some true good for our water-loving lifestyle in Austin. There’s much more to the overall event that you can read about on the KAB link. See you there!
WCCAC was just emailed a site plan for the I-35 Makeover. You’ll recall this project has been lingering for years, but was formally approved and funded this past April. We knew the parking layout would change, and now we have a better idea of what to expect.
Is this simply putting lipstick on a pig? Yes, and it’s about time. Any improvement that helps encourage the pedestrian connection between East Austin and downtown Austin is a worthy endeavor.
This past Saturday morning about 30 people met at Royal Blue Grocery for a casual ride of downtown Austin. We were able to showcase a a selection of residential condos that would give attendees a broad picture of what types of properties exist – Milago in the Rainey Street District sits on the hike and bike trail, Brazos Lofts is the best example of a genuine loft space, 904 West highlights the tree-canopy rich northwest district of downtown Austin.
Despite the incredible humidity, everyone had a great time, and the pace was just right. Nobody got left behind, nor got too far ahead. Thanks to the Elliot and his crew at Austin On Two Wheels for organizing the ride. Thanks to Bryan Cady, Roland Galang, Anna Anami, and Noa Levy for providing the real estate to preview. Thanks to Greg Anderson for being on photo duty. Last, but not least, thanks to the local sponsors of the ride…
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