Texas DOT Seems Open to a Downtown Dallas Highway Removal
Will Texas embrace a model of mobility that works well for cities, instead of tearing them up with wider highways?
A new report from the Texas Department of Transportation indicates that at least in some circumstances, the answer may be “Yes.”
TxDOT last week released its “CityMAP” plan for urban highways in central Dallas [PDF]. Normally, you would expect a highway-focused report from TxDOT to be nothing but road expansions and widenings, with no regard for the neighborhoods that the highways cut through. But CityMAP is different.
The report calls for “integrated solutions reflecting statewide, regional and local shared goals that seek a balance for mobility, livability and economic development.” In other words, TxDOT is thinking about more than just moving cars.
Most significantly, the report indicates that TxDOT is seriously considering a highway teardown. Grassroots advocates in Dallas, led by planner Patrick Kennedy, have been mobilizing to remove I-345, which divides downtown Dallas from the Deep Ellum neighborhood, to make way for walkable development. The proposal gets a nod from TxDOT in the report.
TxDOT considers how tearing down the 20-lane highway and replacing it with an at-grade, six-lane road would affect traffic congestion and city life. The agency estimates that traffic delay on the surface street wouldn’t be any worse than if it spent hundreds of millions more dollars to bury the highway in a trench. (Although TxDOT says the teardown could increase congestion on surrounding roads.) Furthermore, TxDOT notes that removing I-345 would increase opportunities for urban housing, which could lessen the need for people to drive on highways in the first place.
The report does consider some costly highway widenings. But TxDOT no longer approaches every potential highway expansion as if moving motor vehicles is the only priority. CityMAP analyzes, for instance, whether relocating I-30 and making it an at-grade street — freeing up land for development by DART stations — might preferable to widening it.
Jay Blazek Crossley, former director of the Houston-based smart growth advocacy group Houston Tomorrow, said the document is “exciting.”
“I’m sure that the Dallas crowd is going to hate various details,” he said. But, he added, “This is very different than previous TxDOT reports.”
Dallas City Council Member Philip Kingston, who represents downtown, told Streetsblog that “the report is much better than anything TxDOT has done before” but that it still has some “crucial weaknesses,” and he suspects there was a split within the team producing it that led to some compromises.
Crossley said it remains to be seen whether this new approach will carry over to TxDOT initiatives outside Dallas. But he credits Kennedy and other advocates with spurring a discussion not only among locals, but the management of TxDOT as well.
“We want them to be a complex agency that has a lot of different priorities,” Crossley said. “I really hope that we can give TxDOT credit.”