AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parks over Interstate 35? This is just one component of several design elements that could be incorporated into new “cap and stitch” features in development as part of the I-35 expansion project.
Our Future 35 is a new, rebranded program led by Austin’s Corridor Program Office that aims to create new community spaces and enhance east-west connectivity along the I-35 corridor. The central tenant of the program is its “cap and stitch proposal”: Caps are deck plazas that can support buildings, green space or other amenities, while stitches act as widened bridges that would stretch over the lowered I-35 highway and include widened sidewalks, bike lanes, seating and green space.
Michelle Marx, program manager for Our Future 35, said the program is in its early design phases and is actively seeking community input on what elements residents want to see included. She said these elements could provide an opportunity to reconnect downtown with east Austin, which was physically separated and divided from the downtown corridor via the interstate’s construction.
“The symbolism of addressing past segregationist policies is not lost on us,” she said. “And part of our objective here is, in a way….recognition of the impacts that those past policy and infrastructure decisions had on residents of Austin, particularly east Austin, and figuring out how we restitch our community not only physically, but socially, economically.”
Our Future 35 is seeking public input on what residents want to see from the proposed caps and stitches, with an online survey open until Sept. 25. Our Future 35 will then compile community responses and present its findings to the public in November, along with its draft vision, goals and a preliminary look at possible design opportunities.
Other Texas communities — notably Klyde Warren Park in Dallas — have incorporated park and event space in their designs over local highways. She said similar community components, along with possible one or two-story buildings, could be included in Austin’s designs, based on community feedback.
Our Future 35 is separate from the work the Texas Department of Transportation is doing with its I-35 expansion proposal, a nearly $5 billion project that would widen the highway via additional travel lanes and lower main lanes below ground level, among other components.
It’s a project that some local advocacy groups have criticized as a means of incentivizing more traffic to travel through the corridor, increasing carbon emissions and impacting surrounding neighborhoods. Adam Greenfield, executive director of grassroots group ReThink35, said TxDOT’s current proposals encourage more congestion through its proposed expansion.
He said while the community elements considered as part of the cap and stitch proposal are a positive design element for Austin, it doesn’t detract from the environmental and socio-cultural impacts of expanding I-35.
“Cap and stitch is a band-aid on top of a massively damaging, what would be a massively damaging highway expansion,” he said. “Certainly, a little park or two on top of the highway is slightly better than nothing, but cap and stitch is not good enough.”
ReThink35 has instead proposed a boulevard-style roadway in place of I-35, which Greenfield said would incentivize local traffic to travel along the corridor, while non-local, business traffic could access SH 130, MoPac Expressway and other local commuter-centric highways.
Marx said Our Future 35 is separate from and doesn’t comment on TxDOT’s project design. She said whatever final design decisions made by TxDOT will be factored as input into how Our Future 35 constructs its caps and stitches.
“This is certainly a generational opportunity for us in our city,” she said. “No matter where you live in the city, I think this is going to impact you.”