IH-345, the stretch of highway dividing Deep Ellum from downtown and connecting interstates 35 and 30, is at the center of debate on how to develop the city's urban core. Photo by Kelsey Shoemaker.

Urbanism

Dallas Council Committee Vote Marks Breakthrough on I-345 Teardown

The Economic Development and Housing Committee voted Monday to join a TxDOT study exploring the impact of removing the highway.

This morning the city’s Economic Development and Housing Committee voted to study the economic impact of removing the elevated IH-345 highway that separates downtown from Deep Ellum. The go-ahead to study its feasibility marks the first time the city of Dallas has entered a record vote on exploring the highway’s removal—the two options on the table are an outright removal and a below-grade burial. It comes more than a year after the Texas Department of Transportation signaled its willingness to tear down the concrete barrier that connects Central Expressway with interstates 30, 45, and Woodall Rodgers.

The vote aligns the city with TxDOT, which will launch a study in November that explores housing possibilities and opportunities for business and economic development once the highway is either killed or buried. Monday’s vote was a decision to join that study. TxDOT will take the lead on researching the utility of removing the highway—what infrastructure changes would be necessary to accomplish both options and how much it will likely cost. The city’s role will be to look at what comes later: how to rezone the land, how to bring private development to land that is currently public, what housing could look like.

In a memo to the committee, Assistant City Manager Raquel Favela wrote that “if the city does not assume a leadership role in this process, then the city risks not being able to influence the design in a manner consistent with the community input and the city’s policy goals.”  

The idea began in the pages of D Magazine in 2013, with the urbanist and now-DART board member Patrick Kennedy proposing that we remove the 1.4-mile highway to free up 245 acres of development in the city’s core. He argued that a re-stitched street grid and new, developable city blocks would bring in billions of dollars in new investments and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual property tax revenue. Traffic would route to other nearby freeways and onto at-grade boulevards as well as the existing street grid.

He cited San Francisco’s decision to bring down an elevated freeway near the Embarcadero and transform it into a boulevard, spurring a 300 percent spike in property values. He cited the $700 million in investments in Milwaukee after the city got rid of the Park East Freeway. Kennedy believed that the street grid surrounding the freeway had the capacity to hold more cars, and highlighted the potential for an increase in DART ridership, carpooling, and bicycling. “Cities adapt,” he wrote.

“It’s important that the city takes a leadership role in determining the future of the city and longterm health of the city, but is doing so in a way so we can help determine the right amount of economic development and the right amount of housing and then determine how that then informs TxDOT’s design and the decision ultimately of what winds up happening to 345 and the corridor through there,” Kennedy said in an interview Monday afternoon. “The economic development is a critical component and a critical outcome to whatever is invested there from a public sector side. We need to be thinking holistically about these things ahead of time.”

TxDOT included the matter of removal in its CityMAP study last year, a comprehensive analysis of the future of Dallas’ aging transportation system. It found removal would generate $2.5 billion in new property value, while the below-grade scenario would generate $1.5 billion. The city would get $80 million each year in tax revenue with removal and $50 million with the below-grade modification. The important thing here: both of these options call for removal of IH-345 as it exists today. It is what the urbanist Jane Jacobs called a “border vacuum,” an imposing object that seals off one neighborhood from another, destroying the connectivity that is imperative for its success.

“The I-345 corridor presents the city with an extraordinary opportunity to reduce congestion, add workforce housing, and improve the mobility, economic development, and quality of life for residents of Dallas,” Favela’s memo reads. “In order to maximize these outcomes, the city must do its own workforce housing analysis and plan for the 240 acres affected by the I-345 project in collaboration and in coordination with TxDOT.”

Kourtny Garrett, president of Downtown Dallas Inc., said the city’s vote signaled a cultural shift to focus on the needs of Dallas instead of the region’s. DDI, which advocates on behalf of 15 neighborhoods in the urban core, spent the year researching the findings of CityMAP and came away believing in the potential for economic growth that comes with vanishing the elevated highway. She said, should the city find the below-grade route the way to go, that the organization would advocate for development or a park to be placed on top “so we’re not creating another bifurcation of our neighborhoods.”

“When you think about freeways and the way freeways interact with neighborhoods, we’re looking into how we can better plan neighborhood interaction and integration with a focus on quality-of-life and multi-modal transportation,” she said. This is “versus what we’ve done in the past, which is moving people as quickly as we can in and out of downtown.”

The last two City Council elections freed the way for progressive transportation decisions like this one, creating a powerful voting bloc around the horseshoe that was open to rethinking the development calls of our past. Earlier this year, the Council killed the Trinity Toll Road project once and for all, and now it’s exploring what tearing out a freeway could mean for housing, jobs, and development opportunities.

And, full disclosure, Wick Allison, the founder and publisher of D Magazine, launched a Super PAC in 2014 called the Coalition for a New Dallas that advocated for the freeway’s removal.

The vote goes to the full council for approval on Nov. 8. Kennedy, meanwhile, reiterated that he’s all-in on the full removal and replacement with boulevards.

“The subterranean option is a compromise with the past,” he said. “We need to be thinking more about how to leverage our infrastructure investments to essentially help the market rearrange itself in a more efficient and sustainable pattern.”

Comments

  • topham

    Bravo. Unless the city joins in TxDOT’s study, there will be a cloud over any recommendations it produces. Folks who travel that stretch of highway are, not surprisingly, anxious about delays that might result from a tear-down. But if a study by TxDOT, which historically never met a highway project it didn’t like, indicates the local grid and outer ring routes can handle local and regional traffic without a severe degradation in travel time, the benefits of getting rid of that overhead eyesore could be enormous.

    There’s a reason fairy tales say trolls live under bridges. Those areas are dead zones.

    • Katya2032

      TxDOT’s initial study showed that it will cost $100 million to repair the bridge, and $1.9 billion to tear it down. Part of the reason why the streets no longer connect under the bridge is because they built that dog park. Before they did that, the streets connected.

      • topham

        Later, the rebuild estimate went as high as $242 million. And D Magazine questions the $1.9 billion for a tear-down. But it’s not just a question of cost. There’s also the issue of benefit. D Mag also estimated $4 billion in new investment and more than $100 million a year in property-tax revenue over 15 years. Everybody skews numbers to support their view, so I don’t know if that’s reasonable or rational. But surely a chunk of untapped tax revenue would flow from development of that property. Plus, not everything that counts can be counted: more than economic benefit would result from re-joining Old East Dallas and downtown. Finally, this isn’t a cutting-edge idea. It’s been successful in several cities, without causing a big traffic eff-up. The city would be negligent if it didn’t at least study the idea with TxDOT.

  • VoiceofReason

    Tearing it down and making ‘boulevards’ is STUPID !! as a 57 native Dallasite that has NEVER lived more than 5 miles from downtown, including Old North Oak Cliff, Uptown and 26 years in MStreets and I’m a walking GPS and map, quite extraordinarily in comparison to most people.. this isn’t feasible !! .. Want to spend more money to bury it like the rest of Central FINE.. BUT you can’t just street up the connection between I30 I 35, I 45 that goes in all directions and Woodall …Rogers.. integrate, reconnect Deep Ellum ? yeah so they can up the prices and RUN IT INTO THE GROUND again like they have done several times since the early 80s ?? The configuration of the compass diagonal streets, the chopped up neighborhoods, the capillary of the Old North Dallas N’hood, the old South and East Dallas n’hood, the flow of the River Channel.. there HAS to be a major connecttion to the highways.. most people don’t even know which streets to take and they aren’t viable throughfares !!.. bury it, spend the money.. but unless we have FLYING CARS.. IT AIN’T GONNA WORK !!

  • Katya2032

    So it’s a shift from focusing on all of Dallas to everything north of 30, and a big middle finger to those who live south of 30 and commuters who use the corridor to get to work and shopping centers. East of Dallas is similarly screwed. 635 is a POS, and 12 is too far.

  • Sean Tyler Gill

    Highways have never been intended to be this close to a city center. With this area being part of my commute (I live in Deep Ellum) I think even a boulevard is to much considering we have Cesar Chavez on one side and Good Latimer on the other. we should stitch the grid between the two and improve the existing boulevards. the commuters already there would benefit from improved I-30 connections, the mix-master, and a streamlined 75-to-woodall Rodgers connection. the only people majorly impacted are ones travelling from 45 to 75 directly (which is only a small percent of commuters) and Cesar Chavez Blvd could handle that amount. Bad infrastructure design and poor city policy are preventing Dallas from becoming a world city and this highway and I-30 could be the biggest catalysts the city has to create a dense urban fabric.