The sun beats down on the I-30 Canyon at Akard. Photo by Alex Macon.

Transportation

TxDOT’s Secret Plan to Destroy Downtown Dallas

Engineers at the state transportation department have concocted a new I-30 expansion plan that would devastate downtown and East Dallas for a generation or more.

You can say this about Texas’ highway engineers: they’re tenacious and relentless. Even though in 2016 TxDOT drafted CityMAP, one of the most forward-thinking transportation studies to deal with the tangle of downtown highways that have plagued Dallas’ urban core for more than half a century, engineers at the agency have designed an I-30 expansion that doubles down on the same city-destroying mistakes of the past.

A draft engineering plan submitted to Dallas city staff this month for comment and review depicts a redesigned Interstate 30 that extends the road’s shelf life as a monstrous, development-killing behemoth. Perhaps as catastrophic, the plans forgo the guidance of the CityMAP study, which was the product of a painstaking period of research, analysis, and community and stakeholder input. CityMAP is a national model in how urban areas can deal with the challenge of inner-city highways in the context of neighborhood revitalization, urban connectivity, and economic development. TxDOT, with its latest draft engineering plan, tossed those lessons out the window.

Here are the worst aspects of the designs drawn up by TxDOT’s engineers:

  • The added or expanded frontage roads, widened overpasses, exit ramps, and surface streets will increase the speed of traffic through the neighborhoods adjacent to the highway, which impedes CityMAP’s central goal of reconnecting the neighborhoods within the urban core, and will negatively impact potential economic development.
  • The design expands the number of highway lanes and frontage road lanes beyond the largest options presented by CityMAP, thus doubling down on a failed and wasteful strategy of dealing with congestion by adding traffic capacity.
  • Although the design extends a below-grade freeway through Exposition Park, the road re-surfaces at Munger Boulevard, disrupting another central goal of CityMAP to reconnect East Dallas and Samuell-Grand Park to the neighborhoods around Fair Park.
  • The highway, frontage roads, exit ramps, and adjacent street redesigns exceed the existing footprint of I-30, requiring the seizing of property—commercial sites as well as single family homes—by eminent domain.
Just a snippet of a map outlining TxDOT’s plans to expand I-30. Click the image to enlarge. Yellow indicates the “proposed main lanes,” green proposed frontage roads. The orange blocks are “potential displacements.”

If this newly engineered I-30 were constructed, many of the potential benefits laid out by the CityMAP study would be squandered. Which leads to the obvious question: if Dallas had in CityMAP a clear policy direction on how to redevelop I-30, how did this happen?

One answer to that question is that highway engineers tend to do what highway engineers do. TxDOT spokesperson Tony Hartzel said that the schematics were drawn up to reflect what is outlined in the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which is adopted by the Regional Transportation Council (“which has five representatives from the City of Dallas,” Hartzel reminds us). With regards to the limited stretch of below-grade highway, Hartzel said changes were made in response to drainage issues in East Dallas.

But that doesn’t explain why does the general design of the road exceed the limits and design parameters set forth by CityMAP. The only answer to that question is that clear leadership and policy directive has been absent from the design process.

Eric Celeste wrote about this potential problem in D Magazine in February of last year. Eric noticed that since the creation of CityMAP, city staff hasn’t touched it. Public officials haven’t pushed for its implementation. Instead, like so many of Dallas’ grand visions for itself, “CityMAP has sat on a shelf, gathering dust.”

Eric also made another key point in that column. CityMAP isn’t a plan; it is more of a guidebook. The release of the CityMAP study was intended to begin a planning process. After CityMAP’s publication, the city should have embarked on a period of public input, presenting CityMAP’s ideas and concepts in community forums and gathering feedback. That public input could then be presented to the City Council to help elected officials set a policy directive. At that point, the City Council could engage TxDOT and say, essentially, “We’ve done our homework, and this is what we want. Now please go sketch it out.”

But no one has done their homework. There have not been any public input sessions. There are no scheduled sessions with the Council. Instead, TxDOT engineers sat in a room by themselves and drew up a draft engineering plan that it has now submitted to the city to receive feedback. This is precisely the opposite of the process CityMAP intended to initiate. In fact, what made CityMAP so special—unique in the country—was that it reversed this old, top-down, engineer-driven way of transportation planning.

As misguided as these designs for the I-30 redo appear, the blame can’t all be laid at the feet of the engineers. Dallas failed to take control of this project. But now Dallas has an opportunity to set things right. TxDOT has submitted these plans to city staff for comment and review. Staff should tell TxDOT, “Thanks but no thanks,” and it should begin the process over in the correct way.

We know what TxDOT will say to this. TxDOT will claim that if Dallas doesn’t act now, it will lose its spot in the development line and billions of dollars in highway money will be spent elsewhere in the state. If that is the case, who cares? Spend the money elsewhere. Dallas can wait. It would be much better to delay I-30’s redevelopment by a decade than implement a design now that will ruin Dallas forever.

Comments

  • Sunny Daye

    Ruin Dallas. A bit meladramtic on the commentary.

    • @zaccrain

      very meladramtic if you ask me

      • alexander troup

        Yes overkill as usual an besides who cares…really they made a slum out of South Dallas by 1962 ruined Deep Elm and will ruin that again with a monster road of trucks and more cars ..who really cares….we do we live here.

        • alexander troup

          Dallas a city run by nobody.s who come in get the loot and run…and we have to clean up their mess

          • @zaccrain

            those nobody.s have permanently ruined deep elm….for me, alexander.

          • alexander troup

            I had grown up there as a kid, when my folks bought old books there..and it was fun then….but funky..so funky that wow…we are missing the real story. Dallas today’s cheats people ..of a quality of life,,,

          • RompingWillyBilly

            Exactly Alexander. Congrats. When it comes time to execute the masses, you and I will be among the first shot.

          • alexander troup

            It is a bad move I had worked on the site for 4 years now….when they removed the Green Door building we found the old Privy’s from the Saloon days, beer bottles and so on and some old coins, but we realized Deep Elm was a very busy funky place for a hundred years..them died in the 1950’s due to the Freeways….you would think is anyone really aware of what they are doing to run this city now….My thought ..no….it is going to be a city run by losers from now on….do you want to bet…and come back in 5 years….

          • alexander troup

            Thanks…… good to see people here who were born at Parkland Hospital and not dropped..

          • RompingWillyBilly

            There was a recent program on PBS about the poisoning of the water supplies in many of the cities up north. Even though it was clear that the poisoning was going on, officials ignored the complaints. Problem? These officials weren’t conservative republicans. Indeed, they were the good guys on your side! These guys can take care of your kids better than you can. Paradoxically, conservative leaders could have been forced to clean up the water. A better solution is to reduce the size of government. Indeed, create a job selling used cars by starving a lawyer!

          • BlockChay

            Wow, I have been searching for these words in my head to come together and depict how I view Dallas. Lived here my whole life but never could quite put my finger on what’s missing at its core: values.

  • downtownworker

    Any plan for I-30 that does not include serious reparations for destroying Old City Park should be a non-starter. I’m not even sure S. Harwood needs to be wider than one traffic lane in each direction over the freeway. It could be a wide bike and pedestrian connector from the Farmers Market to Dallas Heritage Village. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f792811f0a8e9029dfd7e1edffaafaab40fa50f2756dad7b1816a8a5955101ee.png

  • Liesl McQuillan

    While this is an important issue, this article was hard to get through because of all of the grammatical mistakes. It’s almost as if it wasn’f even glanced at by an editor. Very odd.

    • Ben

      Would you point out one example of a grammatical mistake that made the article hard to get through?

      • RompingWillyBilly

        Articles today seem to start off as blogs and then evolve into the old style columns.

      • dfwcre8tive

        “But that doesn’t explain why does the general design of the road exceed the limits and design parameters set forth by CityMAP. “

  • Christopher Chavez

    Txdot should come up with a solution. If they don’t want to then Dallas leaders should renegotiate .
    I think Dallas would be fine if the money went to a different part of the state for at least a while

  • Bill Gross

    Secret plan, eh? Then how did D get a copy? What was stamped on one of the actual TexDOT Drawings, was it not the word Preliminary?

    Much ado about nothing at this stage. Is D magazine on the way to becoming our own National Inquirer?

    • @zaccrain

      that would at least be better than turning into dallas’ national enquirer.

      • Bill Gross

        Live by spell check, die by spell check

    • Hannibal_Lecter

      Bill, ask the D Magazine staff about when they proposed tearing down the School Book Depository to make room for a parking lot. Yes, they were serious.

  • gshelton

    I would still like to see the option where I30 is taken south of Fair Park and run along the river… I think it would be great for Dallas.

    • Hannibal_Lecter

      It’s funny how many people who screamed about running a tollway in the river bottoms north of downtown want to re-route I-30 through the river bottoms south of downtown.

      • gshelton

        I think if you review the plan that was released the I-30 plan would be outside the levee– though aligned with the river. Where the Trinity Toll road was inside the levee. In addition the Trinity Toll way was a totally new freeway where this one is a relocation of an existing freeway. finally, there are some real benefits that we (Citizens of Dallas) could derive by moving this freeway so that it is not cutting through neighborhoods. (I would argue that most of the benefit of the Trinity Toll way was for Citizens of other cities) A simple drive on the city streets around I-30 between old East Dallas and Fair Park shows what a scar that freeway has been to the city.

        For these reasons i think different positions on the two freeways is perfectly reasonable.

    • RompingWillyBilly

      I’m more in favor of the psycho-tropic method myself of taking lots of medication, slobbering all over oneself, and doing nothing.
      Sort of like the story told about how the city was saved by city hall getting destroyed by a meteor.

  • JohnyAlamo

    TxDot has been quite engaging on the Garland/Gaston/Grand issue. Several public meetings were held and the project manager has been quite responsive to the community. I’m sure its trendy to complain about TxDot, but one could also complain about the city not taking a proactive stance towards transportation and submit their own ideas to TxDot.

  • Lorlee Bartos

    looks like the same plan they were floating years ago when I attended all those meetings. 20 lanes including HOV and service roads. At that time, I suggested that so long as they only asked the question “how do we accommodate cars” — this was the only answer they would get. If they asked the question “How do we better move people” — they might get an entirely different answer. My old math teacher said — anyone can get the answer — it’s setting up the question that matters.

  • Chris A.

    The beatings will continue, until morale improves

  • Campbell Sadeghy

    This will be a great project that will increase mobility in the region and allow more trade and commerce to flow through the area. The freeway will finally be below grade which will mean caps can be added later on. They need to start this yesterday. Of the urbanist who don’t think anything other than everything to be delivered and moved by bicycle are going to be upset. But this plan will be good for everyone. Now if Dallas can get on the ball with a subway system, they will have a very nice transit set up downtown.

  • Jim Schermbeck

    Yes indeed, there is no congestion a bigger highway cannot solve…..

  • RompingWillyBilly

    I applaud the state! Those interstate interchanges belong to the North Texas region and Texas as a whole. And removing I-345 is going to entail widening I-35 a half mile. Good Lord!! You hippies down in Deep Ellum need to get out more!

  • Amerisod

    Lot’s of time and effort wasted designing what the city doesn’t need. It really shows the need for a well rounded humanities education for engineers. If they don’t understand the society they are working for, they will design lousy infrastructure. (Not sure even that would be enough)

    It reminds me of what they tried to do to Boston a few decades ago. They drew a line through the city and planned a nice straight freeway bisecting it. People protested, and the engineers couldn’t understand why. “We are making it easy to get across town. Why is everybody so mad?”

  • Amerisod

    More capacity just gets filled up with traffic anyway, so that’s not the answer. Maybe the highway should be closed. It has such a detrimental effect on the city. Why on earth is a superhighway going right through a city anyway?

  • alexander troup

    Well we are done as of last week street car rails came up more old antique brick and the new building on Elm next to the Union Bankers remodel will become an impressive view…as the new traffic will drive by…timming is now the next button to push as the East Quarter ..an unnatural expensive slang goes into phase…really this was the Railroad district where Dallas was born as a industrial town into a city by 1875 then by 1948 it became Central Freeway and the rest was history as we leave again some real facts on what this area was not what its suppose to theme….Dallas a city of hope and dreams if your ride your bicycle by the freeway…alone.