Our Future 35 is a new engagement series and online tool intended to kick-start the process of co-creating a community vision for the I-35 corridor, focusing on how to guide and build on TxDOT’s investment to achieve positive outcomes for the whole community.
By inviting the community to tune in to the multi-platform episodes, share their values, thoughts, ideas, and questions related to how I-35 could achieve positive outcomes for the Austin community, we can begin to develop a framework for leveraging TxDOT’s investment and truly co-create a future for I-35 that befits the entire community.
Get involved through the online engagement tool, which is now open to the public for submissions! Share your ideas for Our Future 35 Here
In order to fully understand the motivation behind Our Future 35, it’s important to have the whole picture, including the project background and precedents informing our role in advocating for outcomes that will benefit all Austinites as it relates to TxDOT’s I-35 reconstruction project which will shape Austin’s future.
This guide is an effort to give context to the conversations occurring throughout the Our Future 35 Series, both within the episodes and on the Downtown Alliance communication channels. We hope to demonstrate the need for community involvement by providing the project background, inspire participants and ideas by presenting project precedents and potential outcomes, and gain the community’s understanding of the opportunity before us:
We have the chance to confront the racist, unjust policies of our past and center our community’s power to determine our own future by leveraging TxDOT’s major investment in the I-35 corridor to achieve the best possible outcomes for all Austinites.
THE HISTORY OF I-35
Historic Images: East Avenue before 1962
I-35 was once known as East Avenue or La Calle Ancha (“the wide street”). Prior to the 1930s, East Avenue had park-like medians that served as gathering places for Mexican American, African American, Lebanese and Chinese communities. The construction of I-35 diminished the appearance and function of the avenue for family picnics, conversations, music performances, and sports. Street widening displaced homes and businesses, and trees and greenspace were removed. When East Avenue was bulldozed in the late 50s, the natural and political ties to downtown were physically severed, creating a socioeconomic barrier in Austin.
Source: A New Future for I-35: Connecting & Strengthening Central Austin, ULI National Panel Briefing Book
Learn more about the History of I-35 and racial segregation in Austin:
A New Future for I-35: Connecting & Strengthening Central Austin (ULI National Panel Briefing Book)
Austin Uprooted Report & Maps (The Uprooted Project)
Inheriting inequality: Racial Divide in Maps (Austin American-Statesman)
THE RECONSTRUCTION OF I-35
TxDOT will initiate the planning and schematic design of a 10-mile reconstruction project of I-35 through the heart of Austin, beginning this year. The project, known as TxDOT’s Capital Express Central Project, will include lowering approximately three miles of highway through the center of the city and will consider removing the upper decks of the highway, as well as adding two non-tolled managed lanes in each direction.
TxDOT’s Capital Express Central Project presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect Austin’s central business district and the UT campus with East Austin over a highway that has divided our city since 1950.
THE OPPORTUNITY OF A NEW FUTURE FOR I-35
Considering the opportunity ahead, the Downtown Alliance engaged ULI’s National Advisory Services Program to receive recommendations for how to build on TxDOT’s investment in order to reconnect our city over the lowered portion of TxDOT’s Capital Express Central Project.
ULI brought a panel of diverse experts to Austin in February 2020 to study TxDOT’s project area, with a focus on the three miles of highway through downtown.
To prepare the panel of experts, the Downtown Alliance prepared a briefing book that served as a reference guide and a high-level overview of the relevant economic, social, and transportation opportunities and challenges facing the future of I-35. It also presents examples of project inspiration and precedents from other cities.
The briefing book explores:
- The history of I-35 and racial segregation in Austin
- The state of the highway today
- A deeper dive into TxDOT’s Capital Express Central Project and the opportunity it presents to our community
- The existing conditions, including the Project’s physical, cultural, economic and community context
- The policies and planning efforts guiding Austin’s future
- The potential partnerships and funding tools available to implement the Project.
PROJECT PRECEDENTS FOR A COMMUNITY-FOCUSED I-35
Denver Central 70
This $1.2B reconstruction of a 10-mile stretch of I-70 in Denver is a public-private partnership slated for completion in 2022. The project adds one new tolled lane in each direction, removes a 55-year-old viaduct, partially lowers the interstate, and places a 4-acre park over the lowered portion.
Dallas’ Southern Gateway Park
The Southern Gateway 5.8-acre Park will be a visual and virtual gateway into the city with a 700-ft tunnel included in phase I. The effort is part of a larger Dallas City Center Master Assessment Process (CityMAP) to identify neighborhood preservation and transportation scenarios for a comprehensive vision for the city’s future.
Woodall Rodgers Freeway And Klyde Warren Park
Klyde Warren is a 5-acre deck park built over the eight-lane Woodall Rogers Freeway in the heart of downtown Dallas that connects it to the up-and-coming uptown district. Since completion, the project has created $312.7M in added value. Adjacent commercial rents have increased by 32%. Assessed values in the Arts District Public Improvement District have grown from $2.5 billion (2013) to $5 billion (2018).
Atlanta, Georgia – Fifth Street Bridge And “The Stitch”
Completed in 2008 and located in the heart of Midtown Atlanta, the Fifth Street Bridge crosses I-75/I-85 downtown, reconnecting Midtown neighborhoods and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s main campus with the university’s east campus at Technology Square. The bridge closely resembles a park with its wide sidewalks, grassy lawns, protected bikeways, trees and a trellis. ULI released an Advisory Services Panel Report with a “Stitch” concept to reclaim 14 acres of new green space and integrate the MARTA transit system.
Columbus’ Cap At Union Station And 70/71 Crossroads
The Cap at Union Station is a $7.8 million retail development that reconnects downtown Columbus, Ohio, with the Short North arts and entertainment district. Opened in October 2004, the project heals a 40-year scar that was created by the construction of the city’s Interstate 670 (I-670) Inner-Belt Highway. Composed of three separate bridges—one for through-traffic across the highway, and one on either side for the retail structures—the Cap provides 25,496 square feet of leasable space, transforming the void caused by I-670 into a seamless urban streetscape with nine retail shops and restaurants.
EXPERT RECOMMENDATIONS FOR I-35
After talking and working with the community, gathering input and ideas for the future of the I-35 corridor, the ULI panel presented preliminary recommendations for the future of I-35 at Huston-Tillotson University in late February 2020. Included in the ULI Panel’s presentation of recommendations, the panel strongly recommended creating an inclusive community engagement process as the first priority. And the Downtown Austin Alliance, the I-35 Task Force, and the East Austin Community Brain Trust had already initiated the effort.
The panel outlined a framework and principles for engagement supporting the goal of developing a co-created vision for the I-35 project. As stated in the ULI report,
“The communities of Austin must move forward with a shared vision for the project. This will require a new inclusive approach to co-create the vision and principles that prepare Austin for equitable and sustainable growth while also increasing affordability for housing, retail/entertainment venues, and small businesses.”
INFORMING & INSPIRING ENGAGEMENT THROUGH OUR FUTURE 35
Based on the recommendations provided by the ULI Advisory Panel, the Downtown Alliance focused our efforts toward creating a public engagement process and road map that align with TxDOT’s community engagement schedule for the I-35 project and result in a community-led vision and design. Through industry and community partnerships, we launched Our Future 35 to kick-start the process of co-creating a community vision for the I-35 corridor.
While TxDOT is focused on reconstructing I-35 – the roadway (I-35 Capital Express Central), Our Future 35 is focused on how to guide and leverage this major investment to achieve positive outcomes for the Austin community. These outcomes could take the form of surface-level enhancements such as parks, bridges, or other community amenities. It could also result in new policies and tools that help promote equitable development.
These two efforts are happening in parallel and all of the work done through Our Future 35 will be compiled and provided as input to TxDOT as they navigate schematic design and environmental analysis.
Learn more about the Downtown Alliance’s role in creating a community-driven vision for the future through research, gaining historical understanding, and advocating for the best outcomes for all Austinites as it relates to TxDOT’s reconstruction plans: Visit A New Future for I-35 Project Page
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
From the Our Future 35 Resources Page: