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City Finds Its Voice, Pushes Back on TxDOT’s Awful I-30 Redesign

The state agency was planning another ruinous, neighborhood-killing highway project. Dallas (finally) wants something better.
By Peter Simek |

While discussing the redevelopment of Interstate I-30 during a meeting of the Dallas City Council’s Mobility Solutions, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee this afternoon, council member Philip Kingston captured the real significance of the moment.

“I’m not sure people understand how radical what have here is,” Kingston said about city staff’s laundry list of suggested revisions to TxDOT’s initial engineering schematics. “The city staff has never taken a lead on shaping a proposed TxDOT project.”

That comment may sound shocking. Isn’t a city’s transportation department supposed to lead the city’s transportation planning?

Well, sure. But then, Dallas even didn’t have a transportation department until last year. Before that, with a few exceptions (usually when residents and stakeholders made a stink) city staff more or less rubber-stamped whatever engineering plans they were handed by the state and regional agencies. The result, as Kingston reiterated in the meeting, are roads that don’t work as highways and “definitely destroyed neighborhoods.”

But today, in the briefing, Michael Rogers, Director of the Department of Transportation, laid out a response to TxDOT’s early plans for a I-30 redo that pushes the state transportation agency to rethink much of the design. These suggestions included improving overpasses to accommodate green space and improved bike and pedestrian connections, re-configuring on and off ramps, adding additional overpasses that could help reconnect the street grid network, adding deck parks to enhance connections over the highway between downtown and the Cedars, improving multi-modal connections to the planned high-speed rail station, and co-designing I-30 along with the proposed boulevard, sinking, or rebuilding of I-345.

At the end of the meeting, the council committed voted to move the staff proposal to the full council for a vote on February 27. In the meantime, staff is now authorized to submit their recommendations as a formal response to TxDOT.

That vote represents the beginning of a very long engineering process. There are many details to work out, as suggested by some of the back-and-forth during the meeting. Council member Tennell Atkins pushed to make sure there will be an economic impact study. There will be, he was told. Committee chair Lee Kleinman suggested roping DART into the conversation to see how I-30 may be reimagined as a public transit corridor. That could include dedicating lanes for bus rapid transit or an additional light rail line into East Texas, Kleinman suggested, which could also feed potential high-speed rail ridership to the future station.

Regardless of what studies are to come, city staff was able to articulate its opposition to aspects of TxDOT’s initial I-30 designs because  of recent studies that have already been completed. The CityMAP study, Downtown Dallas 360 Plan, and the High Speed Rail Zone Assessment have all grappled with the challenge of running interstate highways through a city center and lay out clear policy directives for positively reshaping the urban core.

Still, Kingston pushed city staff to be even bolder. For example, city staff has asked TxDOT not to make I-30 wider or taller than it is. But why not ask the agency to find opportunities to make it narrower? Instead of asking TxDOT to make access roads more pedestrian friendly, why not ask them to eliminate them altogether?

“We’re not going to get everything we ask for,” Kingston said. “But we will certainly not get what we don’t ask for.”

At least now the city knows it can ask.

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