We have been pounding the drum on a simple, but potentially revolutionary, idea for a while now. The elevated section of highway that runs between downtown Dallas and Deep Ellum–known in the transportation biz as I-345, but to most drivers as “that little bit between I-45 and Central Expressway”–needs to come down.
Yes, we know you’ve heard the argument before–and maybe a few times more than that. But don’t take our word for it. The Congress for the New Urbanism released its annual report today that identifies 10 roads in the United States that cities should rip out and replace with better, more functional, more sustainable infrastructure. And once again I-345 makes the list.
Geez, you should all know this by now. But here’s how the CNU puts it:
In its mid-20th Century heyday, Deep Ellum was a mecca of jazz and blues in the Southwest, and was one of first commercial districts in the city for African-Americans and European immigrants. The construction of I-345 obliterated the 2400 block of Elm Street, which had been the heart of the neighborhood. By the end of the 1970s, few of the community’s original businesses survived.
The report then jumps forward some 40 years to the founding of the Coalition for a New Dallas (which, full disclosure, was co-founded by D Magazine Publisher Wick Allison) and its push to get local, regional, and state powers aligned behind the removal effort. Careful readers of this space know that removing the highway won’t inhibit traffic. In fact, surface-level streets are much more efficient when it comes through moving vehicles through an urban core, and we know this because other cities that have removed highways and replaced them with boulevards have seen no substantial impact to traffic.
Furthermore, as the CNU report goes on to highlight, removing I-345 would create an economic boom in the center city, which could be harnessed to expand job growth in the city center, develop more affordable housing, and fund essential infrastructure and services:
The economic benefits of removal also surpass those of burial. The removal of the elevated highway will open up 245 acres of urban land for potential development—envisioned as walkable urban blocks, with squares and neighborhood public spaces within a short distance of each building. According to TxDOT’s CityMAP study, the complete removal would generate $2.5 billion in new property value, while the burial would generate $1 billion less, as it still requires more than 30 acres of the public right-of-way. Similarly, the city would receive $80 million each year in tax revenue with complete removal, but only $50 million with the below grade modification. This extra revenue could be leveraged to boost housing affordability and quality of life along the I-345 corridor. Moreover, the land reclaimed from the highway’s right-of way will return to the city, putting the public in the driver’s seat of planning and implementation for redevelopment.
But like I said, you all know all this stuff cold by now. I suppose all that is left to do is take CNU’s recommendation and get rolling on the transformation. In the meantime, here’s the full report and a word of caution via CityLab:
Cities that do undertake freeway removal projects should develop strategies to combat displacement, or “the removal of the highway could simply exert a new generation of inequity for communities that have seen enough,” the report says. One example of how to do it right: Rochester’s Inner Loop East project. With the extra land gained by filling in the sunken expressway, the city created three mixed-use developments that include below-market-rate apartments. Another partnership is currently in the works to dedicate 20 units to a supportive housing program for formerly homeless residents.
Many residents, or their descendants, who were impacted by initial freeway construction will also be able to see it torn down within their lifetime. For them, demolition could represent an opportunity to right a historic wrong—“provided they will take part in the renaissance that results,” as the report says.