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PRESS RELEASE: Downtown Austin Alliance encourages community to help transform I-35 through central Austin

February 13, 2020

AUSTIN, Texas – The Downtown Austin Alliance (Downtown Alliance) has embarked on a community-driven effort to develop a roadmap for transforming the land and streetscape surrounding I-35 through central Austin. One of the first steps in the process is to engage the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to conduct an independent assessment of potential alternatives for I-35 concurrent with the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) evaluation of options to ease congestion on I-35, including removing the upper decks and lowering the highway between Airport Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform one of Austin’s biggest community barriers into a valuable regional asset for generations to come,” Dewitt Peart, president and chief executive officer of the Downtown Austin Alliance, said. “While TxDOT’s proposal will lower the highway, it is up to the community to come together and develop a vision for what we’d like to see happen above and at surface level to create something that works for Austin now and in the future.”

“I-35 has been a community scar for a very long time. It’s been virtually untouched through Central Austin for four decades. But now, we can’t miss the chance to do it, to fix it, for mobility and for people,” Senator Kirk Watson said. “This process is an opportunity for our community to thoughtfully consider how to address this wound and shape the change so that it’s better for driving and transit, but also, and importantly, so that it enhances the lives of people impacted by the road. Those deeper conversations have started, and I’m excited for the insight we can gain from the ULI process. I’m thankful the Downtown Alliance and TxDOT are embracing the broader context and the collective perspectives surrounding a program that must benefit the entire community.”

The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research group comprised of real estate and land use experts, has been engaged by the Downtown Alliance to offer the community an opportunity to hear analysis and preliminary recommendations by its panel of experts visiting Austin February 24-28. In addition to analyzing the overall range of options for I-35, the 10-person panel of experts in areas such as economics, community engagement and equitable development, will interview over 100 Austin stakeholders and tour the surrounding areas before developing its recommendations. The panel will present their recommendations at Huston-Tillotson University on Friday, Feb. 28.

The ULI panel schedule includes:

  • Monday, Feb. 24: Site tours
  • Tuesday, Feb. 25: Stakeholder interviews
  • Wednesday, Feb. 26: Panel deliberation
  • Thursday, Feb. 27: Panel deliberation
  • Friday, Feb. 28: Public presentation

In advance of the panel, the Downtown Alliance has ensured the ULI experts have a deep understanding of Austin and past plans and efforts regarding I-35. These efforts included convening three working groups to help scope and guide the project, developing the list of stakeholders to interview, gathering background materials for ULI and planning a day-long tour of the I-35 corridor for the panelists.

“It is inspiring to see the coordination already being conducted by the Downtown Austin Alliance and TxDOT to ensure the transformation of I-35 not only improves traffic on one of Texas’ most congested roadways, but may allow for the creation of new, safe public spaces that are inviting, vibrant and more connected to one another,” Marilyn Taylor, past Urban Land Institute board chair and Austin ULI panel chair, said. “We are excited to bring together community members and experts to create a plan that will reflect the community’s vision for the center of the city.”

Peart added, “While the Downtown Austin Alliance would like to see recommendations for improved transportation and new community assets like green spaces, and pedestrian and bike connectivity, the purpose of the panel is to take a fresh look at the surface level area of I-35 through central Austin, hear from diverse perspectives throughout the community and study the best way to reconstruct this part of I-35 so it benefits all Austinites, no matter where they live.”

The final ULI report will include design options for the corridor, funding opportunities, and community engagement and implementation strategies, and will be released in mid 2020. The community will have a chance to review and weigh in on the ULI panel’s recommendations and next steps. The Downtown Alliance will continue to engage the community for their input, as well as translate the vision into an actionable project plan.

The ULI panel’s presentation about its preliminary recommendations will be held on Friday, Feb. 28, at 8 a.m. at Huston-Tillotson University. To register, click here.

Click here for more information on this project.

Click here for more information on TxDOT’s design and timeline.

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