Passion over talk of removing a downtown Dallas freeway went public with the first of three Texas Department of Transportation public meetings Monday night.
The state highway agency is conducting a feasibility study for future improvements to Interstate 345. It's an unlabeled elevated roadway that connects Interstate 45 to the south with U.S. Highway 75 Central Expressway to the north between Interstate 30 and Woodall Rodgers Freeway.
For years, urban planner Patrick Kennedy has supported removing the elevated freeway that separates downtown and Deep Ellum.
"It creates no public good in my opinion, it doesn't function well as a piece of transportation infrastructure because it fails when we need it most which is at rush hour," Kennedy said.
He was pleased to see the option of removing the elevated freeway included in the so called "City MAP" study released by TxDOT three years ago.
The I-345 segment carries around 180,000 vehicles a day.
Kennedy said he believed surface streets could be improved to handle the traffic.
"We can move those same amount of people for about 25 mph. To me that is a fair trade off for the $100 plus million in annual tax revenue for the city," he said.
With the elevated freeway removed, large parcels of valuable downtown land could become available for new development. Kennedy suggested it could be directed toward much needed affordable housing.
"It's about bringing jobs and housing closer together so there's less of a need to drive so far," he said.
Kennedy is a co-founder of the Coalition for a New Dallas, which promotes removal of I-345.
"I'm not for that because that obviously impedes the flow of traffic," said Texas Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas).
He sent letters to constituents, urging them to attend the public meetings and speak out against removing the freeway.
"I want to make certain this is not driven by developers outside the community," West said. "The whole focus needs to be not slowing down the speed limit, to allow people to get to and from their places of employment. That's the whole thing. We shouldn't succumb to developers' interests at the expense of the public."
The City MAP study also included the option of building a new below grade freeway like Central Expressway. That project included landscaped overpasses to bridge the two sides of the freeway through North Dallas. New development continues to take place close to Central Expressway in Uptown.
"There may be other ideas that the public wants to present that we'll start looking at," TxDOT spokesman Tony Hartzel said. "This is about a two-year process and were just getting started."
In the meantime, around $30 million in repairs have just been completed on the elevated freeway that first opened in 1973 to give the road another 20 years of useful life.
"It doesn't mean that we have to wait 20 years to do something," Hartzel said.
TxDOT is generally not in the business of removing freeways. But the project to extend U.S. 175 directly to I-45, remove so called "Deadman's Curve" and make surface level boulevard of the S.M. Wright Freeway is just that.
"It shows that we're open to different options," Hartzel said.
Representatives from TxDOT and project consultants will be available to answer questions about the feasibility study and process at the public meetings. The remaining meeting dates, times and locations are listed below.
• The second meeting, at CityPlace Conference Center (Lakewood Room) at 2711 N. Haskell Avenue, takes place Tuesday, Dec. 3, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with the presentation taking place at 7 p.m. Parking for self-park is complimentary and will be validated with a parking ticket.
• The third meeting, at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel ballroom at 400 N. Olive Street, takes place Thursday, Dec. 5, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Presentations will be held at noon, 4:30 p.m., and 7 p.m. Parking for self-park is complimentary and will be validated with a parking ticket.
Written comments from the public are requested and will be accepted for a period of 15 calendar days following the meeting. Written comments may be submitted either in person at the public meetings; by mail to the TxDOT Dallas District Office, ATTN: Mr. Travis Campbell, P.E., TxDOT Project Manager, 4777 E. Highway 80, Mesquite, Texas 75150-6643 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Written comments must be postmarked by Friday, December 20, 2019 to be included in the public meeting documentation.