TxDOT Proposes to Dig a $1 Billion Infrastructure Grave in Downtown Dallas

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This week on Upzoned with Abby Kinney, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) makes her co-host, Strong Towns President Charles Marohn, almost want to start swearing.

For many years now, TxDOT has studied the feasibility of removing Interstate 345, which is a 1.7-mile segment of elevated highway that dissects downtown Dallas in Deep Ellum. Proposals to make the downtown stronger and more productive by creating a boulevard have been in the works for almost a decade, supported by prominent urban planners such as Patrick Kennedy. 

Then last month, the agency released their official conclusion that removing the highway is unfeasible.

Instead, TxDOT now recommends tearing down the elevated freeway and rebuilding it in a 65-foot-deep trench that will contain 10 travel lanes and cost more than a billion dollars. An article by Matt Goodman in D Magazine outlines the agency’s proposal to bridge local streets over that trench to reconnect the neighborhoods, instead of creating a boulevard to distribute traffic and create neighborhood streets that build wealth in a people-centered design.

If this hybrid approach moves forward, it seems to send a pretty clear message that highway capacity and maintaining commute times are the central priority of the Dallas Metro, not reconnecting neighborhoods or improving the downtown neighborhood quality of life. 

Urban planners Kennedy and Brandon Hancock first pitched the idea of tearing I-345 out, which would free up land the city could re-zone to create a mix of housing, office, and retail. The D Magazine article says TxDOT estimated in 2016 that removal would generate about $2.5 billion in new net value, a “significant increase in employment totals,” and an additional $67.4 million in property tax revenue over 30 years.

“This is the quintessential situation where a Strong Towns approach … says this is a corridor for building wealth and capacity in the community (with an) investment that would be lower cost, the payoff would be way higher,” Marohn says. “And that whole mindset is trumped by this delusion that we are going to try to move vehicles quickly. And that somehow the city of Dallas itself is going to benefit more from a marginal, theoretical increase in traffic counts, than it will from billions of dollars of private sector investments.”

So what happened? That’s where we almost lose our tempers here at Strong Towns. Find out more on this episode of Upzoned.

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