At lunch on Thursday, TxDOT Deputy District Engineer Ceason Clemens gave her short I-345 presentation for the third of what will be five times in four days. This one went to a slacks-wearing downtown crowd in a Sheraton Hotel ballroom while one guy pulled lunch from a crumpled CiboDivino bag. Based on my own conversations and things I overheard, the room’s opinions about what to do with the 50-year-old highway spanned the spectrum, but not everyone was willing to say them on the record. Several people said they were still gathering information to form their opinions, but their comments revealed leanings.
We are still early in the process. A reminder: TxDOT’s feasibility study is expected to take between 18 and 24 months, and will analyze four different possibilities for the 1.4 mile roadway that connects Central with I-45 but separates downtown from Deep Ellum. It could be removed and replaced with a boulevard. It could be buried. It also could be modified to where some exit ramps are removed. It could also just be rebuilt without affecting its footprint. The study will reveal TxDOT’s preference based on economic development potential, traffic patterns, and more.
This is a first batch of public meetings on the future of I-345. State Sen. Royce West bogarted the first of the three meetings on Monday. The second was Tuesday, at CityPlace Tower. This all-dayer features a couple Clemens presentations Thursday afternoon and evening (4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., to be exact). She said the crowd was a trickle throughout the morning, but 134 people popped in at lunchtime for the presentation.
A staff member working the event, who asked not to be identified, told me that staff’s goal was to get across the fact that the renderings placed on boards around the room were merely starting points presented by that 2016 CityMAP study, which produced those aforementioned possibilities. Modifications to those four will be introduced, based on public feedback, once engineering gets involved.
On that note, the staff member said several people have asked about a deck park—enough that they will draw up an iteration of the below-grade option that includes one in the future. As well, CityMAP’s version of the modified, elevated highway didn’t put ramps between Interstate 30 and Central; engineers will look at iterations that do, the staffer said.
In his enthusiasm about potentially bringing the highway below grade, Zac Miller, a landscape architect at a nearby firm, drew a comparison to Klyde Warren Park, the deck park connecting Uptown and downtown that opened in 2012. “You could do the same,” he said. “You bury it, you connect Deep Ellum to downtown and all these parking lots that are on that side of downtown then become opportunities for better use of downtown space.”
That said, Miller and Trae Bobillo, his colleague at TBG Partners, wanted to hear concrete plans that included details of the traffic fallout. “I don’t know that I would say tear it down without knowing the implications of that, but I definitely like the ideas of putting it underground or making it a boulevard,” said Bobillo.
Meanwhile, Kim Booher, of Uptown, said she couldn’t see a future without the highway. “If I were to have an opinion of the four, I would think removal is probably the worst option from a traffic perspective,” she said. She preferred dropping it below grade among the three alternatives.
Marcus Wood, who’s in commercial real estate, said he’s interested in finding better connectivity between neighborhoods, but felt there were other ways to do so beyond an I-345 teardown—he mentioned Union Pacific railroad lines that split streets running from downtown and the Cedars to Oak Cliff. Still, he said he has yet to make up his mind on I-345, and he wanted to better understand how possible versions would play against assumptions about future traffic and development. “Will this meet the needs?” he said.
So far, TxDOT won’t say where preferences are falling or speak in generalities about what they’ve heard. It’ll be interesting to follow as discussions happen around how similar projects have impacted traffic in other cities. Right now, people on all sides seem to crave that data. They’re not apples-to-apples, but traffic in cities like Seoul, South Korea; San Francisco; Seattle; and New York found its way through arterial streets and didn’t cause long-term disruptions.
You still have until December 20 to voice your opinion. Those who didn’t make it to an event can take a survey or email feedback to [email protected]