What’s a ‘cap and stitch’ and why do Austin leaders say it’ll revamp I-35?

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — As part of a $4.9 billion Interstate 35 revamp project, the City of Austin and Downtown Austin Alliance are eyeing a “cap and stitch” proposal officials say will help unify east Austin with the downtown corridor, as well as enhance single vehicle, pedestrian and multi-modal transit mobility.

From Dec. 15 through Jan. 15, city and DAA officials will collect feedback from residents and community stakeholders on a cap and stitch design proposal for I-35. This comes as the Texas Department of Transportation’s Capital Express Central Project aims to tackle congestion issues related to the roadway, with the project boundaries running from U.S. 290 East to SH 71 and Ben White Boulevard.

Elements proposed by TxDOT include removing the upper decks along I-35 and lowering the highway between Airport Boulevard and Cesar Chavez Street. However, several grassroots-led plan alternatives, including ReThink35 and Reconnect Austin, have denounced TxDOT’s proposed widening of I-35 and subsequent displacement of homes and businesses.

What are caps and stitches?

Under the city and DAA’s cap and stitch proposal, caps will serve as deck plazas that run north to south on top of lowered freeways. These plazas can be used to support green space, community amenities and buildings.

Potential locations for I-35’s proposed cap and stitch design. (Screenshot courtesy: City of Austin, Downtown Austin Alliance)

A Texas example officials previously told KXAN they’ve looked to for inspiration is the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, which includes both green space and event space on top of the highway.

For stitches, these design elements are widened bridges that stretch east to west across lowered portions of the highway. Some specific features that officials said could be incorporated into a stitch design are widened sidewalks, seating, bike lanes and green space.

“You really don’t know that a highway is underneath it. And that really is what we’re seeking with this,” said Mike Trimble, director of the city’s corridor program office, in an October interview. “And so it achieves a lot of objectives. It can help with air quality, providing more green space. It can provide better connectivity, a safer environment for folks to interact between east Austin and downtown.”

Historic legacy of I-35

Since its construction in 1950, officials have referred to I-35 as both a physical and symbolic barrier segregating east Austin, and its traditionally Black and Latino neighborhoods, from the downtown corridor.

As part of the cap and stitch proposal, officials said new features could “reunite the community” while still addressing mobility concerns.

“I-35 has really been kind of the symbolic and physical dividing line between east and west Austin. It was East Avenue, and it was an important connection point for our Hispanic and Black communities in the 1900s, in the 20th Century,” Trimble said. “And then as the highway was built, that just, it kind of doubled down on the division and the segregation in our community.”

Community feedback will be collected via survey through mid-January. Those with questions on the cap and stitch proposal, as well as upcoming I-35 improvements, can contact city leaders by calling 512-974-7898 or by emailing ATXCapStitch@AustinTexas.gov.

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