Downtown Dallas’ I-345 connector is a lifesaver for many, so handle it with care

When the Interstate 345 connector was built in downtown Dallas in the 1970s, it cut through the street grid and destroyed significant black neighborhoods. But simply removing that stretch of highway, as some have proposed, will not bring these neighborhoods back to life or magically create equitable and sustainable development.

Now, I-345 connects many people in the area’s southern and eastern affordable neighborhoods to the northern area’s opportunities. Revitalizing downtown neighborhoods without disrupting other parts of the region will require a plan that considers affordable housing, traffic, alternative transportation, land use and more.

I-345 is a 1.4-mile auxiliary highway that forms the eastern border of downtown Dallas, connecting Interstate 45, US Highway 75, and the Woodall Rodgers Expressway. It separates downtown from Deep Ellum and carries approximately 180,000 vehicles per day. The Texas Department of Transportation predicts that by 2045, the connector will serve 206,000 vehicles per day.

It is therefore an aging but very important regional transportation corridor connecting thousands of residents of East and South Dallas and adjacent suburbs to economic opportunities, employment centers and major airports in the region to the north.

Over the past decade, there has been much debate over whether to demolish, repair or replace this key road in an effort to make the downtown area friendlier to pedestrians and new residents. Various replacement options continue to be investigated.

While it is true that the construction of I-345 was poorly designed, the removal of this transportation connection, within a competitive, polycentric and still maturing urban region, would have a far-reaching impact that would affect the whole city.

Imagine a young family finding a home in Old East Dallas or Kiest Park, or a family moving to DeSoto or a new development in Forney, living in affordable luxury with great choices for public schools.

As long as breadwinners can get to their jobs in Plano or North Dallas in less than an hour, it works. However, if that route is diverted around town and becomes longer with more traffic, it’s suddenly difficult to drop the kids off, get to work on time, and get home before daycare closes. . The choices this family and others make will affect their neighborhoods, their schools, their employers and beyond.

Some city planners reasonably argue that regional traffic should be routed around and not through the city center. Therefore, these alternative corridors will need additional capacity that does not exist. Nonetheless, given the well-documented impact of highways and through-traffic on cities (and larger neighborhoods), this is a valid point that should be thoroughly explored by a wide range of stakeholders. .

Discourse on these issues should include not only neighborhood business representatives and nearby residents, but also regional stakeholders, such as residents of South and Southeast Dallas and beyond, and representatives of the City of Dallas, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the federal government, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and other agencies.

Any serious discussion about the redirection of regional traffic must directly and proactively engage city governance and public policies on economic development, housing, land use planning and mobility. For an effective and equitable outcome, these focus areas must align.

The new City of Dallas Economic Development Corporation could prove to be a useful mechanism with considerable capacity to influence this issue. This voice should be rooted in equitable outcomes in terms of community development and housing needs. After all, job growth and housing are part and parcel of the economic development game. In this context, it is crucial to give priority to neighborhoods and mixed neighborhoods.

Small businesses also have a stake in this decision. They form the backbone of any city and community, and the existing support for entrepreneurial activity must continue and grow. Public policy must revolve around the central importance of business owners.

Housing and land use policies and strategies that focus on creating mixed-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods are absolutely integral to an economically healthy and sustainable Dallas and prevent wholesale gentrification. Commuting across town isn’t the ideal approach to finding affordable housing, but right now it’s one of the few options. Changing this dynamic will require targeted and progressive economic development and urban design. policies, standards and strategies for a more equitable region, benefiting the various community stakeholders.

These policies must align and complement each other to ensure that redevelopment of the land below I-345 would not result in the creation of a new downtown almost exclusively limited to high-end residential properties. Mixed-income neighborhoods can solve a range of problems, allowing low- and middle-income people to live closer to where they work, reducing car dependency and associated air pollution; driving the creation of more walkable neighborhoods that will result in healthier and safer citizens; increase municipal sales tax collections; and supporting more efficient and sustainable infrastructure.

The promise of better mobility also hangs over planning efforts. Possible alternative transport corridors via a reconnected local road network could offer a convincing argument for removing the motorway. Additionally, removing I-345 and rerouting traffic should improve air quality.

Nevertheless, further study is needed to ensure that redirecting traffic to local streets does not simply result in intermittent traffic being spread across multiple roads, possibly negating any improvements in air pollution.

If I-345 is removed, a combination of plans, policies, and strategies must be tied together to achieve an urban fabric that works for everyone. Residents of south and east Dallas and surrounding suburbs must be able to reach employment centers on the first day of any I-345 pullback.

It will take considerable time for Dallas and the surrounding area to evolve and develop (physically and in the public realm) in such a way that this important road link is no longer needed. In the meantime, ensuring access to employment is essential not only for residents, but also for a city facing considerable competition for businesses from its neighbors in the northern and western suburbs.

Much has been discussed and written about the promise of land development and job creation pending the removal of I-345 for the surrounding neighborhood and residential areas to the east and south. However, the demolition of 1.4 miles of highway will not be enough to maintain the downtown area as an employment center. Increasing downtown jobs will require more holistic approaches to community and economic development.

Attracting significant numbers of jobs to a redeveloped I-345 corridor to benefit residents living in the eastern and southern parts of the region can only be achieved through aggressive efforts by the economic development corporation, aligned with various public policies. necessary to ensure success.

The economic disconnect between the largely residential areas of South and Southeast Dallas and the employment centers of North Dallas and beyond can only be resolved with focused political and strategic efforts that continue indefinitely. Undoubtedly, these efforts must be centered on significantly strengthening Dallas’ ability to capture regional growth while ensuring affordable housing and mixed-income development. Regional growth patterns have clearly demonstrated this.

Therefore, the corridor is far too important to leave the results of redevelopment to the whims of the real estate market. It is imperative that I-345 not be treated as just a real estate game. Any plan to demolish I-345 in hopes of inducing redevelopment and re-gridling streets must be guided by plans that ensure equitable results. This commitment must remain at the forefront of all discussions and of any option chosen as a solution.

Recently, such a plan was created for the neighborhoods surrounding Dallas’ newest proposed bridge park south of downtown near the Dallas Zoo and spanning Interstate 35E. However, a more robust version needs to be established for the area adjacent to I-345.

Community and economic development, culture, educational opportunities, health, history and housing diversity make for a strong city and attract jobs, middle and upper income residents and families. Successfully merging policies on these issues will require creative partnerships between the city, the private sector and the federal government combined with political will, strategy, vision and sustained effort.

I-345 has already proven its ability to strengthen the region, but at the expense of the communities that were bulldozed for its creation. All hands on deck are needed to ensure that the benefits to the relatively few neighbors do not disproportionately outweigh the impact to the thousands of households using this connector as a lifeline to seize opportunities. .

After all, some of the people affected by the original construction of I-345 (and their children) are the same people who use the road today.

Michael Grace, born and raised in Dallas, is a certified urban planner, assistant city manager of Ferris and principal of Texas Lyceum. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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