CityMAP: Congestion Mitigation in the Dallas City Core, Part 2

CityMAP main graphic 1

If you missed part one, click here.  Overall, the documents and scenarios CityMAP put together are logical and straight-forward.  Most call for the submersion of key highways surrounding Dallas’ core aiding in traffic flow and neighborhood revitalization.

One calls for the rerouting of I-30 to the distant south and one calls for the removal of a portion of I-45 and US-75.  I’m all for the submersion and covering of these highways.  I’m faaaaaar from convinced on these other two.

Are you HIGH?

What happens to 45/75 traffic when it's partially removed. Everything scatters before returning to the highway.

What happens to 45/75 traffic when it’s partially removed. Everything scatters before returning to the highway.

That’s what I’d planned on writing on the whiteboard focused on the scenario of removing the portion of I-45 from Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd essentially to Woodall Rodgers. On the upside it would definitively reverse the schism separating central Dallas from Deep Ellum and Fair Park. On the downside, it would create the CF of all CFs.  Illustrated above, all traffic on US-75 or I-45 would be forced onto surface streets before reconnecting with the highway (using Good Latimer and Cesar Chavez among others).  Alternatively, other traffic would opt out and use I-20/30 to whip over to I-35E perhaps reconnecting with US-75 via I-635.

State Senator Royce West was there and expressed his concern for this scenario’s impact not only on side-street traffic but also of the difficulty of south Dallas residents’ ability to get to jobs in northern Dallas.

Supporting CityMAP, there are several well-documented cases of urban areas removing unsightly highways resulting in attractive, reinvigorated neighborhoods. Portland, Oregon’s removal of Harbor Drive in 1974 is the poster child.  The roadway sliced through downtown Portland separating it from its waterfront.  The reconnected city is more vibrant in every way.

But I prefer Boston’s Big Dig as an example.  Traffic was rerouted and sent underground (and under harbor) while retaining a normal roadway above ground for local city traffic (Yes, it was HUGELY over-budget and plagued with problems, but it still ultimately delivered).

But what the most successful exemplars of highway removal had was a city core with surface streets able to take the excess traffic.  Downtown Dallas and certainly Deep Ellum and Fair Park don’t.

The only way I possibly see this working is if the highway is submerged for traffic traversing Dallas while a smaller surface roadway is installed on top for local, city-bound traffic. Not the double-decker eyesore of Austin, but completely submerged highway.

Other I-45 / US-75 Options

Burying (and covering) I-45 makes the most sense to me

Burying (and covering) I-45 makes the most sense to me

There were two other options for this stretch of concrete.  One was putting lipstick on the pig by jiggling the exits for a prettier highway while forcing some downtown traffic onto surface roads.  The downside would be “significant increases” in traffic in East Dallas, Deep Ellum and the Cedars, though not nearly as bad as with the “removal” scenario.

The final option would be to drop the roadway below grade but not cover it. It’s also the option with the least downside for traffic, while offering a lot of surface connectivity between the areas.  Of course, without covering it, there’s still the noise and visual impairments along with the lack of maximizing roadway rooftop green space to consider.  The only problem is that one of the consultants told me that it was impossible from an engineering perspective due to underground utilities and waterways (Trinity stuff?).

But unless I miss my guess, “impossible” in engineering means “too expensive.” I mean after all, Boston’s Big Dig rerouted a highway under a harbor while any number of underwater tunnels dot the globe. They weren’t cheap, but they weren’t “impossible.”

If it’s too expensive, I’ll toss out another, perhaps crazier solution.  A large part of the neighborhood separation is the result of the physical and visual obstruction of the highway at ground level.  What if this section was raised … HIGH.  Think High-Five. A roadway that was very high (maybe not the High Five’s 12-stories) would enable parks, buildings and pedestrian thoroughfares to be built under it.  The roadway itself would be above pedestrian straight-line sight.  The roadway would also be shade.

Yes, figuring out how the entrances and exits would function would be an obvious issue.  But perhaps some creative thinking could be applied.

Considering the size and scope of the report, my quibbles are fairly minor.  I encourage you all to download and read the 15-page summary document to understand all the scenarios being offered (don’t worry, there are LOTS of pictures!).  For those wanting the detail, there’s the full-size report to read.

Relocating I-30 altogether

Moving I-30 to far south Dallas

Moving I-30 to far south Dallas

One of the more radical ideas thrown out was the relocation of I-30 to the far south completely away from downtown.  The only question I have is how long would a solution like that last before I-30 again became the finger through the cake icing it is today?  If Dallas figures out that dirt is dirt and there’s no reason to continue the march northward to the Oklahoma border, then a great southern expansion would quickly encroach a relocated I-30.  In the graphic above we can see neighborhoods already touching the potential routes. This is especially concerning as we look at the expected population growth numbers for the area in the coming decades.

That’s my only question for this option.  Are we reinventing the same I-30 problem we have today in a different location?  That’s not a solution, that’s just passing the buck.

The Meeting and Next Steps

Some at the meeting were indignant that they’d not heard of or been invited to the other neighborhood planning sessions. To them I say, “Get a grip.”  First, this wasn’t a secret society, there were apparently plenty of meetings that I’d not heard of either, but I trust I’m not the indispensable bellwether for ingenuity or the keeper of neighborhood zeitgeist.  A first reaction shouldn’t be high-dungeon but rather, “let’s see what’s been done.”

Secondly, one attendee was particularly miffed at the Trinity Tollway not being more prominently featured in the plan (or this column).  Before I heard the consultant’s answer, reading the report I’d already thought it was a brilliant stroke of strategy.  There are a couple of pages about the Trinity Tollway, but no impacts are factored into their calculations.  I thought this was the equivalent of leaving your crappy sibling one dollar in your will.  You acknowledge their existence but ultimately burn them.  The Trinity Tollway is about Mayor Rawlings and NTTA wanting a piggy bank-raiding, trophy project that ultimately does nothing to reduce congestion.  The Army Corps of Engineers thinks it’s stupid and useless.  So I figured CityMAP had given the Trinity Tollway their dollar.

What the consultant said was that more wasn’t included because it’s a political football that they didn’t want their efforts stained by.  And so far they’ve kept CityMAP out of the swirling cesspool that is the Trinity Tollway. Good.

The next steps are to begin.  Talking. Adjusting. Planning. Everything.  This isn’t the be-all, end-all document (although to be fair, it was originally advertised as such).  It’s a starting point.  It’s something people smarter than you prepare to get a conversation going, to give you something to react to.

Let’s face it, having smart people gather a lot of information and do a lot of pre-work provides a hell of a lot better starting place than a group without these skills trying to hack their way through the process.  If you have a brain tumor, consult a neurosurgeon, not a committee with an instruction manual.

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com.

4 Comment

  • I moved to Dallas before I-245 (the actual highway name of the overhead downtown bypass) was constructed. The freeway portion of Central Expressway ended before Pacific, and the traffic was routed onto Pearl Expressway and Central Expressway (which were a pair of one-way couplet streets) and Good-Latimer Expressway. All of these streets then reconnected to the South Central Expressway freeway south of downtown. If you drove on US 75, these streets were your pathway through the downtown area. What is being proposed for the 245 teardown is a return to that awful mess of 45 years ago. The purpose of 245 was to keep that through traffic, and its congestion, off the surface streets. Similarly, the I-30 canyon on the south edge of downtown was constructed earlier with the same purpose in mind. Today, some folks say that the overhead solution as well as the depressed roadway solution are bad, but compared to what they replaced, they are good. Some folks want to relocate the I-30 canyon as well as teardown the 245 overhead. Unless they have solutions that do not recreate the mid-20th Century traffic morass in this area, they need to keep searching for better ideas. I always thought that the definition of “progress” implied moving forward to make things better, not going backward to a worse time. We need progress in our mobility planning, not just tearing down and tearing out and hoping for the best.

    • I agree. Highways were placed for a reason. If that reason has not changed, removing them simply returns us to the problem, not towards the solution. FYI, the roadway connecting US-75 to I-45 is I-345. I didn’t mention it because no one seems to know its name and I thought it would be confusing.

      • 345–you are correct. It is as confusing as Spur 366, otherwise known as Woodall Rodgers Freeway. Almost no one who drives those highways has any idea of the official route number, I would guess.