Jan 5, 2024 - News

The biggest Austin stories to watch in 2024

Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

There's no shortage of issues sure to occupy Austin this year — from abortion-ban challenges to the continued culture wars over diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Here are some local storylines we'll be watching over the next 12 months.

🛣️ The big dig

The Texas Department of Transportation's ambitious, multibillion-dollar plan to expand I-35 through Austin will turn dirt this year, leading to lane closures and headaches for Austin drivers.

  • Construction is scheduled to start by the middle of the year, beginning with the reconstruction of the interstate from Holly Street to SH 71/Ben White Boulevard.

Catch up quick: State officials say expanding the interstate is necessary to accommodate the region's booming population, improve emergency response times and ease traffic congestion.

Yes, but: Critics contend expanding the highway will add more vehicles to Austin's roads — and will renew historical wrongs around race and segregation.

☀️ Total eclipse of the sun

A historic solar eclipse will occur on April 8, and Central Texas is in its path of totality.

  • It's the first time the region has seen a total solar eclipse since the 14th century, NASA told the Statesman.
  • Expect a celestial celebration, with sold-out hotels and Airbnbs and packed state parks.

By the numbers: Texas is predicted to see the majority of the country's eclipse travelers, with more than 1 million visitors estimated, per Great American Eclipse.

What we're watching: How the expected influx of people impacts our traffic and local businesses.

☑️ It's an election year

Voters at the Carver Branch Library in 2022. Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

It's a presidential election year, and Texas will be a de facto piggy bank for the national candidates from both parties.

The big picture: Texans will vote on all state and U.S. representatives. Plus, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is up for re-election after his narrow victory over Beto O'Rourke in 2018.

Zoom in: In the mayoral race, Kirk Watson appears very likely to run for re-election — though he hasn't yet officially declared. No other candidates have thrown their hat in the ring yet.

🏈 SEC welcome mat

Jordan Whittington of the Texas Longhorns reacts against the Washington Huskies during the CFP Semifinal Allstate Sugar Bowl. Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The University of Texas will test its newfound might in the nation's best football conference.

Between the lines: Scion of football royalty Arch Manning could become the starting quarterback.

What we're watching: The money arms race as Longhorns boosters try to lure football, basketball and volleyball recruits from other universities.

🔌 Grid questions

The state's electric grid is likely to be put to the test again this year, even as the power grid operator says it's ready for winter demand.

Context: The grid operator has been closely watched since February 2021, when mass outages during a winter storm led to hundreds of deaths, cost the Texas economy an estimated $80 billion to $130 billion and caused as much as $20 billion in property damage.

Between the lines: It's not just winter conditions that are an issue for the grid. The state's growing population and the possibility of another very hot summer mean power generators may face challenges again this summer.

🌆 The trajectory of downtown

The mixed-use housing and office property called The Republic is seen undergoing construction downtown in October. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

With the throes of the pandemic behind us, 2024 could be a pivotal year for apartment and office construction in Austin.

Why it matters: Austin's downtown was rocketing along before the rise of remote work put a giant dent in occupancy rates.

What we're watching: So much of downtown's fate appears tied to the fortunes of Big Tech, which gobbled up real estate and then found itself, amid 2023 layoffs and slowdowns, offering up sublease contracts.

The bottom line: Good thing it's a leap year. Austin will need the extra day to squeeze it all in.

Dig deeper: What 2024 holds for Austin's real estate market

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