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.

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Council Won’t Vote Today on Studying the Economic Impact of Removing I-345

The agenda item was pulled from Wednesday's meeting, according to an assistant city manager.

The Dallas City Council will not vote as planned today on whether to study the economic impact of tearing out I-345, the 1.4-mile elevated highway that separates downtown from Deep Ellum. Assistant City Manager Raquel Favela confirmed late Tuesday that it was deleted from the agenda.

The topic will be sent back to the Housing and Economic Development Committee, where it appears likely that a discussion will occur about whether to broaden the study to include the potential for growth around projects that the Texas Department of Transportation has already deemed priorities: the Lower Stemmons corridor near the I-35E and Dallas North Tollway connection; the Canyon along Interstate 30, including the exits off the freeway near Fair Park; and the 12.1-mile second phase of Interstate 35’s construction, which includes the Medical District north through TX-183.

The rewritten agenda item will again need to be voted out of committee before it reaches the full council, which means a final vote likely will not come until December at the earliest.

“It’s prudent for us to consider economic development and housing ramifications along with our long-term transportation plans. But this is about much more than I-345, so I do hope that we are wise enough to include other major area transportation projects, especially I-30 near Fair Park and other projects impacting southern Dallas,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement. “It would be another historic mistake if we were narrowly focused in our planning to the detriment of the people who have been hurt most by transportation decisions of the past.”

The roadmap for such decisions is found in TxDOT’s CityMAP analysis, a 300-plus page report that delved into the potential economic impact for the city if it redesigned or replaced the enormous concrete freeways that crisscross Dallas. TxDOT researches the engineering and mobility portions of these changes. But the department allows cities to provide input as to how the roadways should be designed to maximize housing and economic opportunities in the immediate areas. Freeways have historically destroyed communities and displaced residents, like how I-45 tore through South Dallas’ Spence neighborhood near downtown and how I-35 separated the once-thriving Tenth Street District from the rest of Oak Cliff. All the parties involved say they hope to learn from the sins of the past.

“We can’t do this kind of work in a vacuum,” says Victor Vandergriff, TxDOT’s transportation commissioner. “We need [the city] at the table and leading the way. This is a little different, but it’s not unheard of—it’s the right thing to do.”

Dallas has seen successes when its leaders become active in planning alongside the state’s transportation agency. During former Mayor J. Erik Jonsson’s tenure, from 1964 to 1971, the city battled to bury the freeway that would become Woodall Rodgers. The Texas Highway Commission wanted it elevated. You know how that story ended. Today Klyde Warren Park connects downtown and Uptown, atop the sunken freeway.

The removal or burial of I-345, in comparison to its other mobility priorities, is a relatively new development for TxDOT that emerged during the drafting of CityMAP. The agency is preparing to launch a formal feasibility study later this month, which will establish the costs and the effect to existing transit should the freeway be buried or replaced with a boulevard. The city’s decision to send its economic development exploration back to committee doesn’t affect TxDOT’s plans, Vandergriff said. No matter what happens, that portion of highway will need to at least be repaired or replaced within the next 20 years. The state needs to determine what’s possible.

“The city’s economic development study will catch up with us in plenty of time to coordinate,” he said. “Roads do bring economic development and housing opportunities. They bring jobs. There are a lot of positives in that, and we want the city to be a part of that conversation and to look at all of those factors in the downtown corridor.”

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