Both new and long-time residents of Austin recognize that the traffic on Interstate 35 is a major headache. And with new residents moving to Austin every day, the city is rapidly outgrowing the six-lane highway. In a recent survey, I-35 was named the 4th most congested highway in the country. Furthermore, I-35 is often identified as an economic, social and physical barrier dividing East and West Austin. These are ongoing problem for Austinites, and the city is taking notice.
The Austin City Council is currently examining numerous proposals to renovate the I-35 corridor, specifically in the downtown area. The plan which has received the most support by Austinites and city leaders alike is Reconnect Austin, most commonly known as the “Cut and Cap” plan. Developed by architect and urban planner Sinclair Black, the Cut and Cap plan proposes to reconnect the east and west sides of the city by submerging I-35 and covering the roadway with a new city boulevard. The proposed underground section would extend from Riverside to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and has an estimated cost of $500 million.
Most importantly, the “Cut and Cap” plan will help traffic flow more smoothly and provide new traffic capacity and access to the downtown area. Historically, downtown Austin streets formed a grid pattern. The proposed city boulevard would reestablish the grid that is currently disrupted by I-35. The city boulevard would also create prime real estate in downtown Austin that can be used for city parks, retail space and pedestrian walkways connecting East and West Austin. The Austin MetroRail could even extend its service to more areas of downtown Austin. Additionally, the new green space above I-35 will reduce the noise levels downtown and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, making Austin more environmentally efficient.
While the project is an expensive undertaking, the proposal claims that the resulting economic impact will be beneficial for the future. The project itself, as well as the resulting real estate opportunities, would create 48,000 new jobs, while the new tax base is estimated to create $3.2 billion and the new tax revenue to create $900 million. Cities like Dallas, San Francisco and New York City have already completed projects like the “Cut and Cap” plan, and have seen significant improvements in the traffic flow and use of urban space as a result.
As of June 20, the Austin City Council has voted and approved the development of an economic impact analysis and a National Environmental Policy Act study to investigate the financial and environmental impact a project of this magnitude can have on the city. The City Council also continues to investigate solutions for the congestion at the north and south ends of I-35 in Round Rock and Kyle. Austinites can weigh in on the future of I-35 and keep up with all the council’s latest decisions on TXDOT"s Mobility 35 website.