AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council is expected to vote on a resolution to submit the “Our Future 35: Connecting Equitably Study” for a federal pilot program Thursday. It would kickstart planning on the city’s I-35 cap and stitch program.

The Texas Department of Transportation could lower I-35 as a part of its Capital Express Central Project. That controversial project is intended to expand the highway in an attempt to ease congestion and update infrastructure.

Tangentially, the City of Austin is working to ensure east Austin isn’t cut off from downtown by adding walkways that could be used for parks or businesses over that central highway.

“This makes money available. It’s called a ‘Reconnecting Communities’ program, for communities like Austin who have had a highway built through the heart of the community, often causing division,” said Councilmember “Chito” Vela. His district, District 4, is split by I-35.

The money from this pilot program, which is a part of President Biden’s infrastructure bill, would only cover the planning phase of the city’s initiatives, but future funding could be made available that would help the city with construction, Vela said.

Meanwhile, Rethink 35 is asking its supporters to write city council to oppose the item. The group has been against the expansion.

“The reason why we’re opposed to this application is because it sets a precedent that state departments of transportation can use things like caps and stitches as sweeteners to bribe communities into accepting highway expansions,” Adam Greenfield, the executive director of Rethink 35, said.

The group has asked the state transportation department to find another route, including using existing highways like SH-130 for non-local traffic, as well as rethinking the right of way through Austin.

Vela said the highway, which already divides the east side of Austin from downtown, is a problem that needs to be addressed. He believes this could help kickstart solutions.

“We have to look at this as a project that is going to affect the city of Austin for the next 50 years to 70 years,” he said. “We have to get it right now.”