The state of Texas wants to know what you think of I-345, the 1.4-mile elevated freeway that separates downtown from Deep Ellum in the name of connecting I-45 to Central. How do you use it? Do you want it gone? Something needs to be done with the aging thoroughfare, and the Texas Department of Transportation has scheduled three meetings at the beginning of next month to hear from the public. This is the beginning of the long-awaited feasibility study, an early (formal) step in what could be the most significant highway demolition project in the state’s history. It’s expected to take 18 to 24 months.
A significant movement to remove the highway has been brewing since at least 2010, when urban planner and current DART board member Patrick Kennedy joined developer Brandon Hancock in spit-balling a plan for future downtown development. That highway occupies an enormous amount of space—240 acres!—that could be used for plenty of other things: housing, employment, retail, restaurants, parks, you name it. It was also coming to the end of its line structurally. In 2013, Kennedy wrote in this magazine about the possibilities. Wick Allison, our founder, eventually launched a super PAC with the purpose of getting the highway torn out.
“The goal for the feasibility study is to come up with TxDOT’s preferred alternative,” said Mo Bur, the top engineer for TxDOT’s Dallas district. “Everything is on the table.”
That includes all three options included in the state’s landmark 2016 study, which explored what to do with Dallas’ urban highways. Called CityMAP, the report imagined removing the highway and replacing with a meandering boulevard, depressing it below grade, or upgrading and modifying the existing structure by tearing out ramps and adding a couple lanes to Interstate 45. Bur wouldn’t say his own preference, but said one of those three would “most likely” be the preferred alternative that emerges from the feasibility study.
“This is more about listening,” Bur said of the meetings, “it’s not about presenting.”
The meetings are happening at locations in Uptown, downtown, and South Dallas. The downtown meeting is an all-day affair, meant to target the working commuters. Info below from the city:
• Monday, December 2, 2019 from 6 pm. to 8 p.m. at the St. Philip’s School and Community Center at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75215. (Served by DART bus route 002.) The presentation will begin at 7 p.m.
• Tuesday, December 3, 2019 from 6 pm. to 8 p.m. at the CityPlace Conference Center Lakewood Room, First Floor, 2711 N. Haskell Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75204. (Served by DART red, blue, and orange rail lines to CityPlace/ Uptown Station and bus routes 036, 409, 521.) The presentation will begin at 7 p.m.
• Thursday, December 5, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel Dallas Ballroom, First Floor, 400 N. Olive Street Dallas, Texas 75201. (Served by DART red, blue, green, and orange rail lines to the Pearl Street Station and bus routes 024, 036, 084.) The presentations will begin at noon, 4:30 p.m., and 7 p.m.
The feasibility study includes exploring housing and other opportunities for business and economic development. It will detail traffic patterns and investigate how the changes to the highway will impact residents in South Dallas, many of whom travel northwest to the Medical District for work, Bur said. It will take into account the upcoming developments in Deep Ellum, including Uber’s plan to relocate 3,000 employees right next to the highway.
Bur said it will dive deeper into CityMAP’s suggestions, but will also take into account the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Mobility 2045 plan, a highway-heavy document that helps steer financing for road projects. There is still a long way to go. An environmental study will come after this is finished.
“CityMAP was 100,000 feet in the air,” Bur said. “The feasibility study comes down to 50,000 or 35,000 feet.”
In 2017, when the City Council’s transportation committee voted to explore the economic development possibilities of tearing out 345, former assistant city manager Raquel Favela included a memo that remains pertinent.
“The I-345 corridor presents the city with an extraordinary opportunity to reduce congestion, add workforce housing, and improve the mobility, economic development, and quality of life for residents of Dallas,” Favela’s memo reads. “In order to maximize these outcomes, the city must do its own workforce housing analysis and plan for the 240 acres affected by the I-345 project in collaboration and in coordination with TxDOT.”
If this is important to you, show up to one of the meetings and get your feelings on the record.