More than $12 million in new mobility projects for Austin's Seaholm District are now lined up to improve connectivity in and around downtown, after a planned railroad underpass project in the area stalled out.

The background

In the 2000s, Austin officials voted to create a tax increment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ, in the Seaholm District to reserve local property tax collections for various improvements as the city and new development contributed to revitalizing the area.

Since then, most projects proposed in the initial TIRZ plan, such as the Seaholm Power Plant's restoration and other public infrastructure updates, have been completed while new residents, businesses and public amenities transformed the former utility district.

However, one project—a bike and pedestrian underpass of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at Bowie Street—hit a roadblock after years of city negotiations with the UPRR and will no longer be completed as originally planned.

The underpass would have run under the railroad to better connect the north side of the tracks across Third Street with Seaholm and the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge to the south.

What happened

With the Seaholm District built out and most proposed TIRZ improvements taken care of, City Council voted in mid-December to shut down the taxing zone and use the $12.59 million remaining in its fund on several different mobility upgrades instead of the railroad underpass.

“When Union Pacific shuts its door, the Seaholm [Tax Increment Financing] opens a window," said Council Member Zo Qadri, who represents District 9, including most of downtown. "While it's unfortunate we can’t pursue the long-planned Bowie Street underpass, it’s exciting that we are able to use these funds to improve connections along the Shoal Creek Trail."

The details

With the underpass project plan facing difficulties, council passed a resolution in fall 2021 that began the search for local transportation alternatives. Austin Transportation and Public Works representatives eventually met with several community organizations, representatives and city mobility advocates to consider options around Seaholm.

That outreach resulted in a shortlist of new projects around the area that also lines up with stated goals of civic mobility plans, according to a December memo from TPW Director Richard Mendoza. In priority order, the recommended projects that may now be funded with the leftover TIRZ money include:
  • Creating an underpass for the Shoal Creek Trail beneath the Third Street bike and pedestrian bridge, replacing the existing connection over and around the bridge
  • Expanding the Third Street bridge to create more room for cyclists and pedestrians as well as studying and designing a potential public plaza near the adjacent historic Third Street Trestle Bridge. Upgrades around the trestle bridge were previously considered by the city, Shoal Creek Conservancy and Downtown Austin Alliance through the Cypress & Shoal Creek Public Space Strategy.
  • Improving safety, navigation and landscaping features around Third Street's intersection with West Avenue
  • Creating an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible pathway on the south side of West Cesar Chavez Street running along the west edge of downtown between B.R. Reynolds Drive and San Antonio Street
  • Adding signage to highlight lakeshore trail crossings at Cesar Chavez's intersections with Walter Seaholm Drive and West Avenue
Quote of note

"It bears repeating: These improvements aren’t just for one corner of downtown. The Seaholm District is a major network of our urban trail network. The Shoal Creek Trail, the Butler Trail and the Lance Armstrong Bikeway all converge here. The staff-recommended improvements will greatly improve mobility for people on bikes, scooters and foot, and also people in cars," Qadri said.