A proposal by a University of Texas Alumni to reconstruct part of Interstate Highway 35 into an underground tunnel is gaining traction with the Texas Department of Transportation.
The proposal hopes to make room for businesses looking to use the land above the tunnel and to end the divide that I-35 has had over East and West Austin for decades.
The project was proposed by University of Texas school of Archictecture alumni Sinclair Black. Black proposed a “Cut-and-Cap” method to deal with the aging highway. The proposal would essentially bury part of I-35 underground and use the newly-available land as a pedestrian walkway and to lease out to businesses. If initiated, this project would free 30 acres of prime downtown real estate and would bring in an enourmous amount of tax revenue for the City.
Along with allowing businesses to move in, pedestrians would be able to, for the first time in decades, have an easy walkable path from east to the heart of downtown Austin. The proposal calls for a “Grand Urban Boulevard”, one that would allow pedestrians a safe stroll over the underground highway.
The organization pushing Black’s tunnel project is Reconnect Austin. Hayden Walker, a project manager at Reconnect Austin, said the proposed project would end not just a physical barrier, but also a social and economic barrier as well.
“Austin, like a lot of communities, has the highways placed right next to a minority and disadvantaged population,” Walker said. “If the proposed project is undertaken it might end the concrete barrier separating east from downtown Austin.
The tunnel would take into account environmental issues as well, Walker said.
“It is important to people who live right next to the noise and pollution because it blocks most of the noise in ways that walls never could,” Walker said. “When you have a cap, and a ventilation system, you have an opportunity to scrub the air and to remove the air before it leaves the tunnel.”
Two more lanes have also been requested to be built into the underground highway in order to ease the flow of traffic on I-35, and possibly erase I-35’s terrible traffic reputation.
Katelyn Christiansen, a psychology senior who drives I-35 daily, said she wants to see improvements.
“I literally see accidents on 35 every day because too many people are driving home and they’re hot and tired,” Christiansen said. “It’s getting out of control and anything to address the issue is better than nothing.”
Ryan Rafols, a psychology sophemore who also uses I-35 often, said he believes while it may be costly, it is needed.
“I think that the growing transportation needs of Austinites is enough reason to justify increasing our mass transit capabilities,” Rafols said. “It may be financially difficult to fund all of these projects but Austin needs it.”
– Additional reporting by Andrew Messamore