This isn't Interstate 30, but it's still relevant.


Today’s Transit Wonk Must-Read: Why Frontage Roads Are Bad for Communities

TxDOT wants to add frontage roads along I-30 at Lake Ray Hubbard. But do these roads work?

The last time that oh-so-sexy topic of frontage roads was raised on this blog was back when we caught wind of the Texas Department of Transportation’s preliminary renderings of the Interstate 30 redo. The renderings bore little relation to the ideas put forward by the intensive CityMap study that TxDOT also completed. That was a first-of-its-kind study to revolutionize the way the state agency plans for highways that run through dense urban areas. In those engineering sketches, frontage roads were added to the I-30 expansion in downtown up through East Dallas , one of a laundry list of same-old, same-old highway schematics that we argued would also perpetuate the negative impact I-30 has had on East and South Dallas since it was constructed around a half-century ago.

A few days ago, a community a little further down the turnpike received word that TxDOT is planning to expand frontage roads along I-30. There is traffic congestion on I-30 in Garland and Rowlett near Lake Ray Hubbard, and so TxDOT plans to spend $138 million to add six lanes of frontage roads across 2.4 miles of Lake Ray Hubbard. There are currently no frontage roads across the lake because, you know, it’s a body of water, so why pave it over with access roads? But now developers behind a lakeside property are pushing for the expansion to help funnel more traffic into their site.

Now, admittedly, the rules for highways in the less dense areas of the metropolitan region are not the same as in the center part of the city. Whatever aesthetic blight adding lanes to I-30 over the lake may present, those new frontage roads aren’t going to mimic the devastating impact they’ll have in Dallas. Here, they’ll be cutting off neighborhoods, inhibiting multi-mobility, and increasing traffic speed. All of which contributes to the devaluing of what should be the most expensive real estate in the region.

But what this latest TxDOT plan ignores is the fact that frontage roads tend to be bad for communities no matter where they are, according to the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2001, the research center was commissioned by TxDOT to analyze the impact of frontage roads to help the agency make better-informed policy decisions about spending limited public dollars for transportation and mobility projects.

The report is a hefty 192 pages of reading—essential stuff for any policy wonks out there. But here are the key takeaways. First off, frontage roads are terrible for the neighborhoods and communities they run through. Analyses of land corridors along frontage roads show that they typically possess lower household incomes, lower population densities, lower percentages of bike trips to work, lower vehicle occupancies for work trips, and higher unemployment rates. Frontage roads are also associated with lower employment densities.

That is all somewhat intuitive. No one wants to live or work next to a frontage road, and if you live next to a highway, you’re not exactly jumping on your bike to get anywhere. The report doesn’t specifically analyze the effect frontage roads may have on boating out on Lake Ray Hubbard because, well, who would think that TxDOT would build frontage roads on a lake?

But here’s the thing—the study also finds that frontage roads don’t even do the job there are constructed to do very well, particularly in places like Rowlett. If areas are heavily developed, frontage roads may improve traffic flow on highways, but in less developed areas they don’t impact that flow of traffic on highways. From the report:

Arterial systems in these simulations were supplemented by frontage roads and thus also performed better in their presence. The financial costs associated with frontage-road facilities were found to be considerably higher than those associated with non-frontage road facilities, except in cases of extremely high accessright values.

And so, we have a pair of tradeoffs. Frontage roads don’t perform well in less-dense areas like Garland and Rowelett, they are expensive to build, and they further devalue land adjacent to highways. In a world in which public dollars are becoming increasingly scarce, is it worth dumping $138 million into new frontage roads that will expand the footprint of a highway on a lake just to help funnel more traffic to a new development?

The curious thing here is, as with CityMap, TxDOT sponsored this study of frontage roads. And again, as with CityMap, when TxDOT manages to back forward-thinking studies about how highways should be constructed, the inertia of institutional thinking seems to supersede any thoughtful revisions of existing policy. The thinking that always rules the day is that more roads solve all road problems. This is happening in Dallas along I-30. It is happening in Plano along U.S. Highway 380. Now it is happening in Garland and Rowlett. Hopefully the fiscally minded suburban dwellers will begin to realize that TxDOT is selling false panaceas for transportation planning and the agency needs a serious reboot in the way it does business.

(h/t Streetsblog)

Editor’s Note: We let slip a reference to Lake Ray Roberts. It should’ve been Hubbard. Our apologies. 


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  • Hannibal_Lecter

    Wow, this is incompetent even by D Magazine standards.

    “This isn’t Interstate 30, but it’s still relevant.”.

    Uh, yes it is.

    “TxDOT wants to add frontage roads along I-30 at Ray Roberts Lake.”
    “..TxDOT plans to spend $138 million to add six lanes of frontage roads across 2.4 miles of Lake Ray Hubbard.”

    Make up you mind. Ray Roberts and Hubbard are roughly 40 miles from each other. (Hint: It’s Hubbard).

    And that picture: There are no frontage roads at that point.

    At least we now know why Simek’s positions are so oft-based. He’s obviously never actually been to Dallas. 🙂

  • dallasmay

    You can beat on TxDOT all you like, but until they get direction from the elected and appointed politicians to use CityMap, their hands are tied. The current policy that TxDOT employees must, by law, follow is more lanes and more concrete.

    If we want this to change, we need our elected officials to make some official policy directions for TxDOT to begin using CityMap.

  • JohnyAlamo

    I mean. Its quite easy to communicate with TxDot as a citizen. They have public meetings on these projects. It might even be just easier to provide a link to do so in an article about how they don’t pay attention to things:

  • C P

    And in response to that report. TXDOT announced (in 2002) that they would no longer build frontage roads unless absolutely necessary. In their own report, they said building “backage roads” would “provide more access to a greater number of businesses
    and can increase the value of adjacent land while reducing road construction costs for
    individual properties”. So somewhere between 2002 and 2018, TXDoT forgot decided to forget about that report and did a 180 on their position.

  • Bryan Lee

    Another heavily biased, uneducated bunk-article regarding TXDOT and their plans for IH30. First, your dream of having Dallas circa 1950 will never happen. Get over it. Also your dream of a continuous pedestrian and bicycle friendly “neighborhood” along and across the IH30 ROW will never happen. IH30 is an interstate highway (IH), it’s not going anywhere. The IH designation means it provides cross-country traffic as well as across communities. Frontage roads are needed to provide ACCESS to property situated along the interstate. How is that damaging the neighborhood? Also, the access roads planned for crossing the lake are for primarily for safety; but they will improve the flow of traffic, too. Currently, if an major accident happens on one of those bridges, the only way around the accident is to drive around the lake. Or to sit in gridlock until the accident is cleared. The resulting traffic jams make it incredibly difficult for EMS to get to and from the site. They also affect thousands of people trying to get home from work or through the area to their next stop. The DFW area is growing by 100,000 every year. That means more vehicles and traffic residing in our area and more vehicles and traffic bringing good and services to and from our area. That’s life. And the only way to manage the resulting congestion is more and better lanes of pavement.