Report calls I-35 through Austin ‘chasm between downtown and communities of color’

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s section of Interstate 35 has made Congress for the New Urbanism‘s “Freeways Without Future” report. It was one of 15 highways that made the list. The nonprofit has listed the Austin highway twice in the last two years.

The report states the interstate was “built to act as a chasm between downtown and communities of color in East Austin,” and adds that it is the “city’s most dangerous corridor for pedestrians.”

The report released this month comes in the midst of the Texas Department of Transportation’s effort to transform eight miles of I-35 through downtown stretching from U.S. 290 East to State Highway 71/Ben White Boulevard. The $4.9 billion TxDOT project proposes adding two non-tolled HOV lanes in each direction and additional flyovers at I-35 and U.S. 290 East. TxDOT’s proposed design would also remove the upper deck and could take some of the highway’s lanes underground.

However, the report points to three alternative options including Reconnect Austin, Rethink35 and the 2019 Urban Land Institute report for the Downtown Austin Alliance that the report states “have proposed other solutions that reduce the highway’s impacts on neighborhoods, provide mobility choice and safety, and achieve community goals.”

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do it in a way that benefits both the state needs and also local needs,” Heyden Black Walker, the chair of the Reconnect Austin board said.

The grassroots group Reconnect Austin wants to bury a part of I-35 to give way for public space and land development. Those with the organization said there are about 130 acres of developable land.

Another group — Rethink35 — proposes completely getting rid of the eight miles of the highway through downtown and replacing the area with a boulevard that will include other transportation options which could include transit, pedestrian and bicycle paths.

The other option mentioned in the report is the report conducted by the Urban Land Institute in 2019 that proposes “caps at several key locations to create blocks-long park spaces.” The report compares this idea and proposal to the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.

TxDOT officials said they are working with the community and are working with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to conduct an independent analysis to look at TxDOT plans, as well as the community concepts.

Community advocates are hopeful but say they will have to wait and see.

“We need to make it safe for people to drive 40 miles and we also need to make it safe and comfortable and healthy for people to live next to I-35, and we have the opportunity for TxDOT to think differently and it’s very exciting but also we’ll see if they can do that,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, the executive director of Farm&City.

The section of I-35 through Austin is not the only Texas highway to make the list on the report, Interstate 345 in Dallas was listed as “prime for removal.”

The report mentions the 1.4-mile stretch of highway creates form divide between the historic Deep Ellum and downtown. The Congress for the New Urbanism report is released biennially.

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