- In the early 2010s, Dallas covered a major highway that ran through its downtown and created a park on top of it.
- I-35 in Austin divides east and west Austin and is an eyesore.
- Austin should follow Dallas’s lead and cap I-35 and create a park on top of it.
I can feel the native Austinites shaking with rage as they read the title to this blog article. Who would ever want to do anything that Dallas does? I do. And you should. Because a few years back, Dallas had a great idea and its worked out really well.
You may have read this week, but Austin city leaders are seeking input on a proposed plan to bury I-35 through town and cap it. This would be part of the TxDot I-35 expansion plans.
And that brings us back to Dallas. Dallas did something similar a few years back. And it looks great. So that’s what we are going to talk about in this week’s blog article – whether capping I-35 through Austin makes sense.
Klyde Warren Park
As I wrote above, Dallas decided it was going to bury and cap Woodall Rogers Freeway and started work on the project in 2009. They finished in 2012 and, on top of the highway, they built the very nice Klyde Warren Park. If you have not seen it, you should definitely check it out the next time you are in Dallas.
The park is 5 acres and is a feat of engineering and design. In addition to the green space, trees, plants, and flowers, it has a children’s area and some restaurants. It hosts concerts and movies and, overall, has been a huge success. Instead of having a big highway running right through the heart of the downtown, the road is buried and a large park is in the middle of the city.
I-35 Through Austin
Now compare that to I-35 in Austin. It is not pretty. I-35 runs right through the heart of downtown Austin. To the west was built the capital and the center of downtown. To the east of I-35 was traditionally the area where the city put the poor and minorities. There is no denying the racist history of I-35. It has separated and segregated the city.
In addition to the worrisome cultural issues, it is a traffic nightmare. Anyone who has driven through Austin knows that I-35 is bumper to bumper traffic almost 24/7/365. And its not just a problem on I-35. The service roads cause constant traffic. And that hurts some of the businesses around that area.
TxDot has announced it has budgeted $4.3 billion to expand I-35. Through September 8, it was seeking input from the public on two expansion proposals. Both proposals center around widening I-35 by adding lanes. This will directly affect 140 businesses along the corridor. These solutions seem to exacerbate many of the I-35 problems. But we can talk more about that more in the future.
Cap and Stitch Plan
And that is where the cap and stitch plan comes in. The basic plan is to bury I-35 and cap the road to create a large park – similar to Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.
For all the reasons mentioned above, this is a far preferable plan to just adding more lanes. It will create green space, provide more parkland for residents to enjoy, and add additional business space (and tax revenue). It will also stitch together the separated downtown from East Austin. Thus working to correct a racial injustice that started 100 years ago. And, frankly, it will just look a lot nicer.
Capping highways is a trend across the country. And its easy to see why. The benefits are immense. Obviously no plan is perfect. And we do not know all the details yet of a potential cap and stitch plan. But the basic premise is sound and it’s the route that Austin and TxDot should pursue.
We made a huge mistake 70 years ago when we built interstates right through the heart of downtowns. But by burying and capping those freeways, we can start to fix that mistake. Its what Austin should do.