AUSTIN (KXAN) — In advance of a public meeting outlining two different conceptual design proposals for Interstate Highway 35 renovations, officials with the Austin Transportation Department and Texas Department of Transportation outlined key features from both iterations.

The I-35 Capital Express Central Project is a $4.9 billion planned upgrade to enhance one of Austin’s central transit corridors. Currently, the roadway rings in as second for most congested highways in Texas, as well as earned an “F” rating for service, particularly during peak travel periods.

“These I-35 improvements have been talked about for more than 25 years,” said Tucker Ferguson, TxDOT Austin district engineer. “And throughout that time, TxDOT has worked hard to gather feedback from our community with the goal of incorporating those ideas while still meeting the challenges and the mission to improve safety, address congestion and enhancing mobility.”

Now, city and state department leaders are roughly three years out from breaking ground on key facility overhauls to address connectivity and safety. Under the current project timeline, environmental studies and schematic design work will continue through 2023, with an anticipated construction start in 2025.

TxDOT presented changes to two proposals Tuesday afternoon, referred to as Alternative 2 and Modified Alternative 3. Alternative 1 is dubbed a “no-build option,” which is still on the table, should city and department leaders opt not to pursue an overhaul project.

Alternative 2 and Alternative 3’s current design features overlap in many aspects, save for two key differences: shifting northbound frontage road traffic to the west side of the downtown region, referred to as a “boulevard style section”; as well as intersectional changes to Riverside Drive to make room for Project Connect’s Blue Line.

Since TxDOT’s August community meeting, the following changes have been made:

Alternative 2 changes

  • Accommodations for deck plazas from 4th Street to 8th Street only
  • Removing cap opportunity between Cesar Chavez Street and 4th Street to minimize displacements

Alternative 3 changes

  • Displacement reductions by approximately 20 properties
  • Removal of proposed flyovers at Hwy. 290 East
  • All lanes lowered at Airport Boulevard, as opposed to elevated managed lanes
  • New bicycle and pedestrian crossings at 3rd, 15th and 41st streets
  • Mainlanes, managed lanes both lowered at Holly Street, while bypass lanes are elevated
  • Innovative intersection, known as a single point urban interchange, at East Riverside Drive to help accommodate Project Connect’s Blue Line
  • Bicycle and pedestrian-only intersection at Woodland Avenue
  • Shifting northbound frontage road to west side of downtown “to create a boulevard-style section” from Cesar Chavez Street to Dean Keeton Street.
  • Palm Park connection to east of I-35
  • Access removal at Woodward Street

Both alternatives have undergone the following changes since August’s workshop:

  • Alley access to Crestwood
  • Reconfigured northbound ramp near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
  • Addition of U-turn on northern side of Lady Bird Lake
  • Ardenwood Road will no longer connect to frontage road due to Red Line bridge

Other project elements of note include lowered speed limits to 35 miles per hour on frontage roads, as well as shared-use paths along both sides of the highway.

In addition to the outlined features, officials from the Downtown Austin Alliance and Austin Transportation Department are leading efforts to develop a “cap and stitch” design feature to enhance east-west connectivity and community elements. Mike Trimble, director of the city’s Corridor Program Office, said these will be complementary elements to TxDOT’s plans to lower the highway system below street level.

“This will provide us better mobility and connectivity throughout downtown and central Austin,” he said. “We’re very encouraged by the fact that TxDOT has already incorporated several of the widened crossings, or stitches, into their design and funding those as part of the project.”

While certain crossing elements have been factored into TxDOT’s current design proposals, overall funding for the caps is not included in the project’s $4.9 billion budget. Trimble said a key focus of the corridor program office this year will be looking at federal and local grant funding options and analyzing funding resources for similar cap efforts across the country.

To date, TxDOT has collected more than 3,500 public comments related to the project. onight, department and city officials will preview these same design proposals in an in-person and virtual community meeting. The CapEX VOICE meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. at Austin Central Library, located at 710 W. Cesar Chavez St. The meeting will also be streamed online for those unable to attend in person.