AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Mobility Committee received an update Jan. 19 on the city’s Our Future 35’s Cap and Stitch program, which is being done in conjunction with the Texas Department of Transportation’s Interstate 35 expansion project near downtown.

The presentation provided a timeline on the program, potential funding sources and gave a look at what a possible cap and stitch build could look like in Austin. With construction on TxDOT’s I-35 expansion set to begin as early as mid-2024, city officials said Our Future 35 is gearing up for a 2025 design of caps and stitches, so they can be constructed alongside the roadway expansion.

What are caps and stitches?

Mike Trimble, director of Austin’s Corridor Program Office, described caps as deck spaces that can hold parks, community spaces or other public amenity areas above depressed highway lanes. Stitches are widened east-west crossings that can include bike and pedestrian access lanes.

A common example of a cap and stitch project referenced here in Texas is the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.

For the construction, Trimble said city departments are working on coordinating utility locations or any additional utility elements that would be needed in cap design. As for whether it’d be feasible to remove frontage roads and cap the entirety of the project above the depressed highway, Trimble said it’d be challenging given design elements under the expansion.

What amenities could Austin’s Cap and Stitch program feature?

Through Our Future 35’s community engagement processes, Trimble told the committee key amenities residents called for include trees, bike lanes, jogging and walking trails as well as shade structures. Other responses highlighted the desire for small retail and local businesses, art installations, playgrounds and cultural facilities.

The Top 10 desired amenities included:

  • Trees
  • Bike lanes
  • Jogging, walking trails
  • Basic comfort (wayfinding, seating, water fountains, etc.)
  • Shade
  • Transit/mobility hub
  • Noise reduction
  • Renewable energy generation
  • Bike amenities (bike racks, storage, hubs)
  • Small retail and local businesses

The city is working alongside the Austin Economic Development Corporation to help identify what specific cap and stitch features could benefit area neighborhoods bordering I-35. As for how much infrastructure these caps can support, Trimble said the city’s working with TxDOT on analyzing what possible amenities the decks could support and how that load-bearing weight could shape design elements.

How is the Cap and Stitch program being funded?

The Cap and Stitch program isn’t funded through TxDOT’s multi-billion-dollar expansion. Instead, Trimble said the city is exploring federal grant and funding opportunities to coincide with city dollars going into the project.

Similarly, Trimble said the city of Dallas spearheaded funding for its Klyde Warren Park capping program.

Project heads have submitted an application for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities grant, as well as eyeing the USDOT’s Build America Bureau Technical Assistance for support.

In late December, the city announced Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin had secured $1.5 million in federal dollars from the Community Project Funding to help cover some of the Cap and Stitch program costs.

“Obviously, we want to try and minimize the impact on the taxpayer, so we’re exploring all options including looking at federal funding available through the bipartisan infrastructure law and other programs,” Trimble said.

Our Future 35 is looking into potential public-private partnerships and sponsorships as other possible revenue sources.