AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Texas Department of Transportations gears up for the start of construction on its Interstate 35 expansion project next year, the University of Texas at Austin is eyeing ways to bolster campus amenities as part of it.
TxDOT’s I-35 Capital Express Central project is a $4.5 billion, eight-mile plan designed to expand the roadway. State officials say the project will help address ongoing congestion and mobility issues along the interstate.
As part of that expansion effort, city leaders have proposed deck plazas on top of sunken portions of the interstate to help improve connectivity between east Austin and downtown, while also adding community amenities to the area. Our Future 35 is the city’s initiative at developing that public infrastructure, which isn’t funded as part of TxDOT’s project.
Dan Allen serves as executive director of real estate planning and strategy at the University of Texas at Austin. He said the project offers an exciting opportunity to reconnect UT’s main and east campus facilities, with the university analyzing deck plaza opportunities between 15th Street and Dean Keeton Street.
“We’re looking at a mixture of parkland and a sports and entertainment district that kind of connects and provides just a world class place for our students and the city,” he said.
A deck plaza could link up UT athletics and entertainment complexes. Those include the Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium and the Moody Center west of I-35, as well as the Texas Tennis Center, the UFCU Disch-Falk Field and the new graduate student housing project nearing completion east of I-35.
By connecting these two ends of campus, he said the prospective deck plazas could offer greater accessibility to all of UT’s campus offerings, especially on high-traffic volume event days. But as the university expands its student housing investments east of I-35, he added the need for easier access to the main campus only grows.
Back in February, TxDOT officials said the City of Austin has until fall 2024 to identify $350 million in funding sources to build its Our Future 35 Cap and Stitch program. Allen noted there are federal grant opportunities out there, and added the City of Austin and UT are each going through a lengthy list of funding sources to help bring the project to fruition.
One of those federal grants the Our Future 35 program is analyzing is one specifically designed to reunite communities that have historically been divided by highways.
“We certainly want to try and access those [federal fund opportunities] to the extent available,” Allen said.
As UT continues working with the city on identifying possible funding sources, Allen said university leadership will continue collaborating with TxDOT to help bring these deck plaza concepts to fruition.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to tie the campus together and bring an incredible amenity to the city, and to our students and alumni,” he said.