A new collection of organizers is pushing for the Dallas City Council to request that the state slow down its plans for Interstate 345. Sometime this fall, the Texas Department of Transportation will begin seeking resolutions from partners like the city in support of its “preferred alternative” for the highway, which would take the road below grade between downtown and Deep Ellum. The TxDOT plan includes 11 opportunities for at-grade decking over the road that could support development. It also would add 7 acres of surplus right of way beside the thoroughfare.
Resolutions in support of this plan are important features for TxDOT; they help the agency compete for funding from the Texas Transportation Commission, and they contribute to the federal environmental impact statement. That statement, known as an FEIS, is required before construction can begin.
Meet More Neighbors Dallas. They’re a chapter of YIMBY Action—yes in my backyard—that advocates for policies that will lead to more housing for more people in cities across the country. This local chapter now has its eye on removing I-345, starting with urging the state to develop an FEIS for removal that can be analyzed alongside the FEIS for putting the highway in a trench.
“We’re pushing the jobs away from people by keeping these highways,” says D’Andrala Alexander, the organization’s co-founder. “A lot of what we’re asking for at this moment is actually to pump the brakes. We’re asking for time.”
State officials briefed the City Council’s Transportation Committee in June, about a month after TxDOT unveiled its preferred trench plan. Both sides presented TxDOT’s plan—which the state refers to as the “hybrid” option—as a compromise of sorts between the folks who want the highway removed and replaced with a boulevard, and the others who want to keep the roadway but see the need for more buildings around it.
More Neighbors Dallas has enlisted environmental groups such Sunrise Dallas and Downwinders at Risk. The Imagining Freedom Institute, Do Right by the Streets, and the Coalition for a New Dallas are all involved. (The Coalition was started by the late founder of D Magazine, Wick Allison, but has always operated separately from the magazine.)
The mix of organizers is reflective of the opportunity they believe removing 345 presents. The city’s climate action plan has a goal to significantly reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips in the coming decades. Sunrise and Downwinders have long favored policy that curbs emissions; they view a highway as a major barrier to that goal.
TxDOT wants to move forward with an FEIS for the hybrid (trench) plan and believes removal would add too much travel time to commutes to be considered. More Neighbors Dallas is hoping the city will ask the state to fully research removal, including modifying the street grid to absorb some of the traffic. The group also wants City Council members to vet what TxDOT is presenting to make sure the state agency’s goals align with the city’s bevy of new plans, including the Mobility Plan and the aforementioned Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan.
“We don’t have answers for those yet,” says Christopher Gomez, the education and outreach coordinator for the Sunrise Dallas Movement. “It doesn’t seem like the city council members are even asking those questions.”
Indeed, when presented with TxDOT’s preferred alternative, the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee didn’t have many questions. The district engineers said removing the highway would increase travel times by as much as 40 percent, but no one on Council asked what that number represented.
“When you start to tell residents they’re going to get an average of 40 percent more time added to their commute, everybody is gonna sit there and go, ‘Ahhh! I don’t want that!’” said Councilman Omar Narvaez, the chair of the Transportation Committee. “They already hate an extra five minutes. I can’t imagine what a 40 percent delay would be.”
More Neighbors says it plans to push the Council to ask these questions and really vet what is being presented. It’s in this bureaucracy that organizing matters. The Dallas City Council is busy with dozens of other priorities. TxDOT went away and researched the highway, and the topic slowly faded—fewer news articles, no events. The organizations that had pushed for the I-345 teardown, making their case relentlessly before council members and state representatives, had gone quiet.
Life happens. The first story about the future of I-345 ran in D Magazine in 2013. That’s almost a decade ago. New groups and new energy need to enter the arena, and that’s what More Neighbors Dallas is trying to do. They’re calling the initiative (re)Place 345 and are formally asking the City Council to request that TxDOT slow the process and consider removal.
“We’re actually just asking for time to do the full evaluation,” Alexander says. “A highway is still going to exist.”
The discussion is coming at an important time. Proposed freeway expansions in Houston and Austin have attracted new energy and awareness of the impact inner-city highways have on their surroundings. While the displacement associated with the hybrid plan will be nowhere near Houston, where thousands of units of housing stands to be removed for the road, More Neighbors sees 345 in this same vein.
This was once a thriving center of Black arts and culture, but the highway took those businesses from its residents. Former D writer Peter Simek addressed the disruption of the neighborhood: “The grand hotels of the 1890s had become the two-bit hotels of the 1960s. The gambling halls and saloons of the 1930s become the cobblers and pawn shops of the 1970s. What the old News reports miss is that this isn’t evidence of a neighborhood that is dying; it is a neighborhood in chrysalis. But then, I-345 violently interrupts this lifecycle. Deep Ellum never gets the chance to complete its regenerative process.”
The journalist Megan Kimble, who is writing a book about highway development, found deeds belonging to property owners who had their land taken from them in the 1950s and the 1960s to make room for the freeway. The history is front of mind for the group, too, which is calling for the city to consider what was lost when it comes to economic development opportunities.
“You had this massive loss of small-business ownership and small-business creation,” says the author Collin Yarbrough, who is also a member of the organizing effort. “There’s this push for economic development and economic development that is Black-owned, seeking to restore and repair through Black wealth creation and small business development in a way that tries to repair that breach.”
These are big ideas based in accountability. Organizing has to sometimes feel like walking through mud. You work to build a coalition around a shared goal, you figure out a messaging strategy to get in front of more people, you tailor your argument based on your audience to find shared interests—and then you go to war with inertia.
There is a new energy here, a drive to make City Council prioritize this issue after it faded into the background. No matter where you stand on the future of the highway, (re)Place 345 and More Neighbors Dallas believes a full analysis of its future is something that will benefit all of us.