A project to increase green space and east-west crossings along I-35 could move closer to becoming realized.

Austin City Council decided Sept. 21 to apply for a $105 million grant from the Department of Transportation to fund part of Our Future 35, the city’s project to add caps, or decks, and stitches, or widened bridges, over I-35 during the highway’s upcoming $4.5 billion expansion project.

If approved, the grant would pay for a 5.3-acre deck and its supportive infrastructure from East Cesar Chavez and Fourth streets. Austin would be required to match $45 million to fund additional amenities on top of the deck, including shade trees, restrooms and pavilions.

Richard Mendoza, interim Transportation and Public Works department director, said he expects the grant to be “highly competitive” as Dallas and Seattle are also applying.

The why

Mendoza said the Cesar Chavez through Fourth street cap “checks the most boxes” of the grant’s grading criteria.

The deck is also the only planned cap or stitch that won’t require pedestrians to cross a frontage road to cross the highway. When completed, it will span 5.3 acres and hold up to two- to four-story buildings.

Zooming out

The city is working on the cap and stitch project in tandem with Texas Department of Transportation’s Capital Express Central project, which will widen, reconstruct and lower an 8-mile section of I-35 throughout downtown.

The deck spanning Cesar Chavez and Fourth streets is one of about 15 caps and stitches the city hopes to build over the sunken roadway. The entire project comes with a $600 million-$800 million price tag, and TxDOT officials said the city would need to have it all by December 2024 for all of the projects to be realized.

“Obviously, that’s a tremendous challenge for the city given that amount of money by this timeline,” Mendoza said. “But we continue to work with them on future caps incorporated into the highway design so we do not preclude our chance to realize these opportunities going forward. And we’ll continue to work with them on the potential funding sources.”

Mendoza said additional funding could come through future grants, philanthropy, public-private partnerships or debt.

What else?

The University of Texas at Austin also has plans to build a cap or stitch over the I-35; however, specific details haven’t been announced.

What’s next

The DOT will announce the winner of the grant in February.

“We expect more grant opportunities after this. It’s important that when they do come available that we try and bite off as much as possible,” Mendoza said. “We feel strongly that this project would be a strong candidate, be the best round peg for a round hole for this grant opportunity.”

Ben Thompson contributed to this report.