Aerial view of downtown Dallas

Did Yesterday’s Downtown Traffic Mess Say Anything About the I-345 Teardown?

Might as well say "so much for global warming..."

I didn’t drive downtown at all yesterday, but by all the accounts I saw online it was an absolute mess every which way you looked, thanks to a nasty accident on Interstate 35E that shut down several lanes.

Mike Drago over on the Dallas Morning News’ editorial blog used the opportunity to make an argument equivalent to saying, in the midst of a March snowfall in Dallas, “So much for global warming…”

Patrick Kennedy (and those who echo his ideas) advocate tearing down I-345, the elevated downtown bypass that feeds into Central Expressway and Woodall Rodgers, rather than repairing or replacing it. For the betterment of neighborhoods, they say, a goal around which we can all rally. Kennedy says surface streets can easily soak up an additional 252,000 cars per day, well over the 160,000 cars that traverse I-345. There’s a whole political action committee formed around this guesstimate.

As an editorial board, we’ve kept an open mind to the idea until there’s some better data. In the interim, you have to repair the thing before it falls and kills someone. We also think some other big-ticket projects, notably the totally doable decking of I-30, ought to take higher priority.

But related to the capacity of surface streets, here are a couple of non-rhetorical questions: Isn’t it fair to think of today’s three-lane closure on Stemmons a bit of a pressure test for Kennedy’s theory? If the assertion about surface street capacity is correct, then why was my boss late to work?

I concede it’s one rush hour during one day in late March. But wasn’t this morning as close to a real-life test as we’re ever going to get?

No, no it is not. I’d elaborate on why, but Wylie H. Dallas already did a fine job in the comments:

[All of which got me to thinking about frequent calls for tearing down freeways around the city center.]

The call is to only tear down a single freeway (I-345). I-30, in contrast, would be relocated and/or decked.

[In the interim, you have to repair the thing before it falls and kills someone.]

No you don’t. It definitely has to be closed to be fixed, so you still have two options (because both options involve require closing the highway for an extended period):

1)  rebuild a new elevated freeway in the same location; or

2) improve the street grid to accommodate new traffic patterns.

[But related to the capacity of surface streets, here are a couple of non-rhetorical questions: Isn’t it fair to think of today’s three-lane closure on Stemmons a bit of a pressure test for Kennedy’s theory? If the assertion about surface street capacity is correct, then why was my boss late to work?]

No, it’s not fair. Because the plan to tear down I-345 also entails substantial improvements to the urban street grid (which is heavily neglected in Dallas). Also, when you have a one-time, unplanned event such as this morning’s accident, drivers are caught off guard and don’t have the opportunity to change routes in advance.

[I concede it’s one rush hour during one day in late March. But wasn’t this morning as close to a real-life test as we’re ever going to get?]

No, for reasons already explained.

[Those who advocate tearing down freeways say we can get to work just fine — and almost as quickly — using surface streets like Preston Road and Irving Boulevard and Main Street. Maybe they’re right. Maybe not.]

There is actually a lot of data already available, and real world examples from other cities that have done precisely that (remove freeways).

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