Public Notice: I-35 Back on the Front Burner
TxDOT prepares the next draft of their rebuild plan
The Texas Department of Transportation is ready to present the next iteration of the Capital Express Central plan, the massive reconstruction project for an 8-mile stretch of I-35 through Central Austin; a virtual meeting next week will give you a better idea of what they and the city currently have in mind. Meanwhile, an ongoing virtual open house gives you an opportunity to weigh in on at least one aspect of the plan; deadline for comments is this Saturday.
As you may recall, TxDOT presented preliminary design alternatives last summer and got some significant pushback from the public and from city and county officials, complaining that the draft plans strayed from the agency's original "no higher, no wider" pledge, and asking generally that the mainlanes be better separated from local traffic, and the access roads and crossings be better integrated into the fabric of the local streetscapes. Through Downtown, for instance, planners hoped for the mainlanes to run underground, with parks, local streets, and pedestrian amenities covering much or all of what is now the highway's footprint: capping the highway, and stitching Downtown back together with East Austin.
Well, TxDOT has heard those concerns – they and the city Mobility staff say – and has made some significant modifications to address them. "According to TxDOT, the modifications support multimodal enhancements to the corridor, prioritize the use of existing right of way and improve bicycle and pedestrian access between the east and west sides of I-35," according to a city release this week. And a Jan. 7 memo to the Austin mayor and City Council – sent jointly by Gina Fiandaca, the assistant city manager for Mobility, and TxDOT Austin District Engineer Tucker Ferguson – says that two entities "are coordinating during weekly and monthly meetings," and outlines some of the features of the revised plan: reduced frontage road speeds; reconfigured frontage roads, especially Downtown; Locally Influenced Visual Enhancements (Live35), an aesthetic design program; and some degree of cap and stitch. It also says they're "working through" other "possible design opportunities that could potentially improve the current project."
You can see that memo here, but the public unveiling of this new draft plan will come in what TxDOT calls a CapEX VOICE (Volunteer Opportunity in Community Engagement) working group meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 6-8pm at the Austin Central Library, and livestreamed on Zoom; register and get more info about the plan at my35capex.com.
Meanwhile, the cap-and-stitch discussion is moving along on a somewhat parallel track, on the assumption that while TxDOT may design their build to accommodate such a plan, the city will be responsible for development, funding, and implementation. "The City of Austin and Downtown Austin Alliance are coordinating with TxDOT to build deck plazas, or caps, and enhanced crossings, or stitches, over I-35 downtown to connect east and west Austin," reads a separate city release this week, and they're taking public input on what that should look like; see info on the Austin Cap & Stitch Project, or send an email to email@example.com. Survey responses are requested by Sat., Jan. 15.
Among all the other cancellations and service curtailments around town, the Austin Animal Center will temporarily be closed to the public on Sundays starting Jan. 23, "due to staffing concerns related to COVID-19 and the difficulty in filling open vacancies." And like a lot of places, they're hiring to fill several vacant positions; see info at austintexas.gov/austin-animal-center.