The City of Austin, in partnership with Downtown Austin Alliance (Downtown Alliance), was selected to receive $1.12 million in federal funding under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program. The program, established by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, provides technical assistance and funding for communities’ planning and construction projects to connect neighborhoods by removing, retrofitting or mitigating transportation barriers like highways and railroad tracks.
This is the second grant that the City of Austin’s Corridor Program Office and Downtown Austin Alliance have successfully secured. In 2022, $1.5 million in federally earmarked funds to support continuing Our Future 35 Cap and Stitch planning were sponsored by U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett through Community Project Funding (CPF).
The City of Austin (lead applicant) and Downtown Alliance (partner), along with supporters and additional partners, submitted the Our Future 35: Connecting Austin Equitably Mobility Study to the USDOT Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program as a candidate for planning grant funding. This study will evaluate critical transportation, public health, equitable development and environmental justice outcomes needed to move the Austin community’s vision for Our Future 35 forward.
Both the proposed planning study and the broader Our Future 35 program align with the Administration’s goal to restore community connectivity by studying the feasibility and impact of removing, retrofitting or mitigating transportation infrastructure that originally created barriers to economic, cultural, and social opportunities.
Austin is one of 45 transportation infrastructure projects nationwide selected for federal support to advance racial equity and support underserved communities. The Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program prioritized applications from economically disadvantaged communities, specifically those focused on equity, environmental justice and strong community engagement and stewardship.
The City of Austin will use the grant to fund a corridor study to evaluate options that maximize equitable multimodal connectivity in areas surrounding potential cap and stitch locations. Options to be explored in the new study include:
- Transit needs and priorities for serving new destinations created with cap and stitch amenities
- Environmental justice
- Health impacts of transportation investments on residents, including improved air quality
- Increased shade
- Easy access to active transportation
- Connectivity to healthy food
- And more
Our Future 35 is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-stitch our community and create benefits for Austin residents harmed by past infrastructure and policy decisions. With TxDOT’s proposal to lower I-35 through central Austin, the City has an opportunity to mend the divide created by the original construction of the highway and replace it with amenities that celebrate and connect all Austinites.
How We Got Here
In 2020, the Downtown Alliance led an Urban Land Institute National Advisory Services panel roadmap for creating widened crossings (stitches) and highway caps. Following the ULI study, Downtown Alliance led a series of community conversations called Our Future 35 in partnership with Public City and local radio station KAZI. These discussions delved into history, reflected on the impacts that I-35 has had on generations of families, and envisioned what new spaces and connections over the highway could provide. Following the engagement series, Downtown Alliance convened a Scoping Working Group representing over 50 people and organizations directly impacted by past and present freeway construction efforts. The group led several calls to action during the early stages of the NEPA process to ensure that the reconstruction of I-35 addresses the highway’s legacy of segregation.
Here and Now
Now, the City of Austin is championing the next phase of this once-in-a-generation effort to create new caps and stitches over the freeway. Here is what Mayor Kirk Watson had to say:
“As it exists today, I-35 is not acceptable and not sustainable, but we can change that. We can address all the functional issues to improve safety, ease congestion and enhance transit. And we can begin to right a historical wrong. Our Future 35 provides a great opportunity for the city to continue our focus on equity and environmental justice as we work to deliver a once-in-generation project that truly benefits the people of Austin.”