On Monday afternoon, Dallas city staff will present a series of recommendations that push back against TxDOT’s plan to expand Interstate 30 east of downtown. The city’s transportation department will suggest burying the interstate to reconnect the neighborhoods that it ripped apart. It will tell the state not to make the highway any wider or higher than it currently is. It will call for the frontage roads to be re-thought, to incorporate “complete street” elements that would allow for safe walking and slower speeds. And it will urge the state to build connections over the freeway that would be safe for pedestrians to walk or bike.
These so-called “guiding principles” were created in response to a draft plan to expand Interstate 30 that TxDOT sent the city in May. Its proposals were in line with what highway engineers have done since their jobs were created: it wanted to widen and expand the freeway and its frontage roads from downtown to U.S. 80. This drafted plan seemed to fly in the face of the forward-thinking CityMAP study that TxDOT itself created in 2016, which was supposed be a guide for how to redesign or replace the hulking highways that tore Dallas apart. It also ignored Downtown Dallas Inc.’s 360 Plan, which aimed to restitch the neighborhoods in the city’s core. The City Council adopted Downtown Dallas Inc.’s plan as official policy in 2017.
The 360 Plan never suggested expanding the freeway, and traffic numbers don’t support widening it either. After Downtown Dallas Inc. got a whiff of TxDOT’s plan, they drew up a white paper for the city with a list of recommendations. They’re reflected in the presentation.
“TxDOT’s plan would be a restarter for us,” said Kourtny Garrett, the president of Downtown Dallas Inc. “The impact of its project is going to stretch into planning for rail, for the Cedars … it stretches into the Farmers Market and it would’ve been very significant in its impact considering the way those areas are developing.”
Now, eight months later, city staff revisited the tenets of CityMAP and took direction from the 360 Plan as well as the High Speed Rail Station Zone Assessment, which set guidance for the infrastructure needed near where the rail will depart near downtown Dallas. The city’s recommendations would strike down nearly everything the state’s highway engineers presented. No adding lanes to the freeway, no widening of the frontage roads, no expanding overpasses or exit ramps, and no raising it above grade around Fair Park.
It is as if the state did not consider at all the city’s priorities in drafting its expansion plan. And staff’s presentation says so, albeit nicer: “Some design elements identified as important in CityMAP, The 360 Plan, and the Station Zone Assessment are not yet included. I-30 design is not yet informed by other important transportation projects such as D2, High Speed Rail, streetcar opportunities, and the Strategic Mobility Plan.”
City staff also wants to bundle the reconstruction or removal of I-345—the 1.3-mile stretch of highway between Interstate 45 and Central Expressway downtown—with the plan for I-30. It says this is important “to limit disruption.” It’s also telling TxDOT not to put in a cloverleaf off-ramp near Griffin in the Cedars that would “eliminate development potential on that site.” Instead, it suggests “urban style off-ramps linking to reconnected city street grid and freeing land for development,” as suggested by DDI’s 360 Plan. Other parts of Interstate 30 would be buried and connected via deck park, as Dallas does.
There will surely be questions. The existence of any frontage road at all will be concerning to some. These swallow up land that could otherwise be used for development, “complete street” elements or not. And to support its re-imagining of frontage roads, one of the slides uses a photo of a sunken highway in Rochester, N.Y., that has since been removed and turned into a boulevard. Dustin Bullard, Downtown Dallas Inc.’s vice president for public space and design, said not to think too literally about the frontage roads. This is still early, and they could disappear altogether in some parts of the freeway.
“You may not need frontage roads through the whole corridor because you can access the site effectively through surface streets that already exist,” he said. “We’re outlining to treat frontage roads more as city streets and less as ingress and egress wholly for the freeway.”
The suggestions show city staff has gone back to the documents that were supposed to guide our transportation future, studies and research that TxDOT apparently didn’t even consider.
On Monday, the council’s Mobility Solutions and Infrastructure Committee will get to ask questions and make recommendations before voting to support staff’s proposal. They’d like to get it in front of the full council on Feb. 27 and submit a response to TxDOT with these guiding principles shortly thereafter. From there, the city will “continue seeking input from stakeholders to flesh out specific design recommendations related to the I-30 redesign.” Staff has already drafted an official resolution, which will likely give the city more leverage once it gets to the table with the state.
The committee meets Monday at 2 p.m. Stay tuned.