Skip to main content

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is planning to reconstruct I-35 through Central Austin as part of the I-35 Capital Express Central Project. Initial plans for the first significant upgrade in 50 years to this approximately 10-mile stretch called for removing the upper decks and lowering the highway between Airport Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street. Construction could begin as early as 2025 at an estimated cost of $5 billion.

As TxDOT considers changes to this major north-south thoroughfare that has divided our community for decades, the Downtown Austin Alliance and the City of Austin have partnered with a diverse group of Austin leaders to co-create a shared vision that builds on this investment to ensure the best outcomes for all Austinites. By transforming I-35 through the heart of our city, we can invest in our community, improve all forms of transportation and create community parks, bridges and other amenities where the highway stands now.

The Opportunity

In 2020, the Downtown Austin Alliance organized an Urban Land Institute (ULI) panel of international experts to help shape a roadmap for capping and connecting the I-35 corridor once TxDOT lowers the highway. The report outlines 11 acres of proposed caps in 3 locations: Cesar Chavez to 4th Street, 6th to 8th Street and 11th to 12th Street. In total, the panel recommended 2 acres of stitches in 11 locations at an estimated cost of $313M.

“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. 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.”

— Dewitt Peart, Downtown Austin Alliance President and CEO

ULI Panel Report

The goal of the ULI Advisory Services program is to bring the finest expertise in the real estate field to bear on complex land use planning and development projects, programs and policies. To date, the program has assembled more than 700 teams to find creative and practical solutions for issues such as downtown redevelopment, land management, community revitalization and affordable housing. ULI's interdisciplinary teams provide a holistic look at development problems.

The panel was charged with developing two or three design alternatives which provide direct access from managed lanes into downtown and the UT campus, more green space, enhanced east-west connections, a public engagement process and a phased an actionable implementation and funding plan with a focus on equitable development.

Read Report

The ULI panel recommendations include to:

  • Shrink the footprint of the highway
  • Cap the lowered highway
  • Stitch the bridges
  • Co-create a vision with the community for the corridor with the city and partners for caps and stitches
  • Put equitable growth strategies in place now to plan for inclusive economic growth
  • Develop a funding plan and operations strategy as early as possible

Throughout the summer and fall of 2020, the Downtown Austin Alliance and our partners hosted 14 community engagement events to collect public input on critical topics outlined in the ULI roadmap. This Our Future 35 Engagement Series included radio broadcasts, virtual episodes and community-led workshops around co-creating shared values for decision-making.

These events included radio programs in English and Spanish, as well as workshops with over 45 community mentors and experts. This process dug deeper into topics that different groups of stakeholders, including the Leadership Group, Task Force and East Austin Brain Trust had begun to identify prior to the panel report. We remain active leaders in TxDOT’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process for I-35 to ensure that community shared values and input are considered at every step.

“We can do more than avoid the impacts of I-35’s reconstruction; we can prioritize the best outcomes for Austin and its communities of color.”

— Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette and Linda Guerrero, Our Future 35 Coalition Co-Chairs

The Cap and Stitch Approach

The Downtown Austin Alliance is partnering with the City of Austin to co-create a vision and equitable development strategy for the potential “caps” and “stitches” along the I-35 corridor in downtown Austin.

What is a cap?

A cap is a large deck plaza that runs north/south over portions of a sunken freeway that can be designed to support soil, trees, people and buildings. Caps—which would be designed locally with the community—will greatly improve connectivity and improve the surrounding businesses and neighborhoods.

An illustration of what a cap over I-35 might look like with public spaces

For I-35, multiple caps are being considered which could serve a mix of uses that serve community needs in the future. Caps can be designed to support people, soil, trees, stormwater systems, buildings and travelers.

Why cap the lowered highway?
Caps can also accommodate buildings that provides incremental value, which can help pay for the construction, operation or maintenance of the improved deck plaza. Caps are a tool to preserve things that are important to central Austin, grow and connect to things that are important to the community and to put necessary resources into them to ensure they thrive.

What is a stitch?

A stitch is a widened bridge over a lowered highway that runs east to west with wide sidewalks, bike lanes, seating areas and supportive green space that reduces noise and sound pollution and makes crossing safe and inviting. Multiple stitches are being considered.

An illustration of stitches across I-35 to improve connectivity

Why stitch the lowered highway?
These proposed road features will stitch our city back together with inclusive, new public places, as well as provide improved access, mobility and community green spaces.

View the City of Austin Storymap for more information about this approach.

The Challenge

When I-35 was built in the late 1950s, homes and businesses were displaced and green spaces were removed. East Avenue, which served as a gathering place for ethnic communities, was bulldozed for construction. When that happened, natural and political ties to downtown were severed, creating a socioeconomic barrier in Austin. Subsequent segregationist policies worsened the impact of discriminatory land use and transportation policies on Austin’s communities of color.

As Austin grew and changed, there was one thing residents could agree upon: the less time you spent on I-35, the better. In 1997, the American Institute of Architects’ R/UDAT Revisited report confirmed I-35 as a continued barrier between downtown and east Austin. The interstate showed up frequently on lists of most congested roadways nationally. Other subsequent reports have highlighted the dangers facing both motorists and pedestrians from this aging infrastructure corridor.

Today, I-35 serves hundreds of thousands of commuters daily, and traffic worsens each year. Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute found that I-35 in central Austin is the second most gridlocked corridor in the state. Heeding the calls for change from the community, in 2014 TxDOT  convened a group of downtown stakeholders to identify and evaluate strategies to redesign the highway. The report from that planning process identified several goals, including a desire to maintain east/west connectivity at 6th Street and other current interstate crossings, enhanced transit access, wider and safer cyclist and pedestrian crossings and a preference for lowering main lanes and adding caps.

Get Involved

We encourage all Austin residents to learn more about the project by visiting the links below and providing your feedback by:

A Citizen's Guide to NEPA

The Capital Express Central project is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental process, which is underway now. This guide helps citizens and organizations effectively participate in Federal agencies’ environmental reviews.

Read Guide

Our Future 35

Our Future 35 serves as an online hub for the community and Scoping Working Group members to share values, thoughts, ideas, and questions related to how I-35 could achieve positive outcomes for the Austin community.

Visit Website

I-35 Capital Express Central

The reconstruction process will incorporate input during a series of engagement opportunities, including stakeholder, agency and public meetings during the environmental study and schematic design phase, as well as in final design and procurement.

Visit TxDOT Project Page

City of Austin & I-35 Capital Express Projects

The City of Austin's webpage to educate the public about these projects and solicit feedback on project design, branding and more.

Visit Website

Collaborative Partnerships: A New Future for I-35

Leadership Group (2019-2020)

Mayor Steve Adler, City of Austin
Dianne Bangle, CEO, RECA
Darrell Bazzell, Senior VP and CFO, University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, President & CEO, Huston-Tillotson University
Randy Clarke, President & CEO, Capital Metro
Tucker Ferguson, Austin District Engineer, Texas Department of Transportation

Paulette Gibbins, Executive Director, ULI Austin
Natasha Harper-Madison, Council Member, City of Austin, District 1
Mike Heiligenstein, Executive Director, CTRMA
Ashby Johnson, Executive Director, CAMPO
Mike Kennedy, Board Chair, Downtown Austin Alliance

Dewitt Peart, President & CEO, Downtown Austin Alliance
Mike Rollins, President & CEO, Austin Chamber
Martha Smiley, Board Member, Waterloo Greenway Conservancy
Commissioner Jeff Travillion, Travis County Precinct 1
State Senator Kirk Watson, Texas State Legislature, District 14

Task Force (2019-2020)

Heidi Anderson, The Trail Foundation
Heather Ashley- Nguyen, Texas Department of Transportation
Eric Bustos, Capital Metro
John-Michael Cortez, City of Austin
Miriam Conner, Community Organizer
Cody Cowan, Red River Cultural District
Susan Fraser, Texas Department of Transportation
Matt Geske, Austin Chamber
Robert Goode, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority
Stevie Greathouse, City of Austin Planning and Zoning

Sandy Guzman, State of Texas, Office of Senator Kirk Watson
Donny Hamilton, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration
Nefertitti Jackmon, City of Austin, Neighborhood Housing and Community Development
Nate Jones, Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods (OCEAN)
Mike Kennedy, Downtown Austin Alliance
Cole Kitten, Austin Transportation Department
Jeremy Martin, Austin Chamber of Commerce
Chad McKeown, CAMPO
Walter Muse, Travis County, Precinct 1
Shavone Otero, People United for Mobility Action (PUMA)

Caleb Pritchard, City of Austin, Office of Council Member Harper-Madison
Marisabel Ramthun, Texas Department of Transportation
John Rigdon, Waterloo Greenway
Yasmine Smith, People United for Mobility Action (PUMA)
Carla Steffen, Austin Convention Center
Geoffrey Tahuahua, Real Estate Council of Austin
Kim Taylor, Taylor Collective Solutions
Heyden Black Walker, Reconnect Austin
Jim Walker, University of Texas at Austin
Brendan Wittstruck, North Central I-35 Neighborhood Coalition 3 (NCINC3)

East Austin Brain Trust (2019-2020)

The East Austin Community Brain Trust is a growing mix of activists, social justice advocates and community leaders at varying levels of involvement and tenure. The East Austin Community Brain Trust convened as a group twice, with ongoing one-on-one and small group conversations and participation in the ULI panel process. Its purpose was to shape the ULI panel experience in a way that educates the panelists on the Project’s cultural and racial context and reflects the interests of the communities east of I-35, both current and those displaced or at risk of displacement.

Consultant Experts


Related Projects

Palm District Planning Initiative

The Downtown Alliance and Waterloo Conservancy are partnering with the City of Austin to tie together initiatives that support the completion of the Waterloo Greenway, address connectivity and community needs in the Rainey Street area, preserve the Palm School, preserve and enhance the Red River Cultural District, develop the Fifth Street Mexican American Heritage Corridor, build out the Innovation District, expand the Convention Center and renovate Brush Square.

Learn More

Project Connect

This new transit plan includes a new rail system, a downtown transit tunnel that makes everyone's trip faster, an expanded bus system and a transition to an all-electric fleet. The Downtown Alliance is partnering with the project team to make Project Connect both a world-class transit system and series of places that are a source of pride for our entire community.

Downtown Circulator Study

Our longtime partner Nelson\Nygaard conducted a feasibility study of a downtown circulator system to transport people short distances.

Review Report

Photo credit for images in hero area and City of Austin & I-35 Capital Express Projects content block: Erika Rich

Sign up to receive emails from the Downtown Austin Alliance.