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City working to maximize cap-and-stitch opportunities in final I-35 plan

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 by Nina Hernandez

As the Texas Department of Transportation proceeds with its Interstate 35 Capital Express project, the city’s cap-and-stitch program is working to maximize the amount of open space and other community amenities included in the final plan.

At its Jan. 10 meeting, the Urban Transportation Commission heard an update on the city’s cap-and-stitch planning process. Acknowledging the painful role the interstate has played in Austin’s segregated past, the plan calls for “capping” the highway with parks and open space after TxDOT lowers it, and then building bridge structures to “stitch” together the city’s east-west divide.

“I-35 serves as a representation of that in a very physical format today, and what we’re going to do is be looking forward: How can we start to reconnect our community? How can we bring community benefits to the I-35 project that TxDOT is undergoing?” said Susan Daniels, deputy director of the Corridor Program Office.

The city spent last year working with the community to refine project goals, vision and themes. The team is currently in the phase one pre-design process, which involves identifying opportunities and potential constraints. TxDOT recently put out a draft environmental impact statement, which it will finalize in 2023, looking at alternative designs for the highway project and identifying a preferred plan.

That means the city’s team can now use that preferred plan to begin engaging the community on specific concept plans and scenarios. The Corridor Program Office is aligning its process schedule with TxDOT so that the city’s cap structures can be built as TxDOT is doing its construction. Civic infrastructure and amenities will be built afterward.

“2023 is going to be a really pivotal time for us,” Daniels said. “We’re going to be working with the community to develop concept plans and scenarios. What do people want to see on these caps and stitches? What types of amenities and benefits do we want to bring to our community?”

The team has already conducted a feasibility analysis to understand the viability of the project. Daniels said that work revealed there is “quite the capacity” for caps and stitches within the TxDOT project. Not only are different open spaces and park-like amenities on the table, but there is also potential for one- and two-story structures near cap edges.

In order to ensure stakeholder involvement, the city has established community steering and technical advisory committees. Community engagement will continue this year on those committees, as well as in open houses, on social media and through survey responses. The team will conduct focus groups to participate in deep dives on specific subjects.

“Not only do we have new civic infrastructure on these caps and stitches on the I-35 corridor, but we’re very cognizant that this project has reach beyond the corridor itself and into our community,” Daniels said. “So as we move forward into the neighborhoods that surround this project, we want to make sure we are looking at what is needed to support that community.”

The team is also working on a funding strategy that prioritizes the cap structures, and will pursue grants, financing and public-private partnerships. The city has already secured a $1.5 million Community Project Funding grant with the help of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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