By Chris McCahill
In February, the Texas DOT was considering only two options for a 1.4-mile stretch of Interstate-345 running through central Dallas: rehabilitating it, or replacing it with some other high capacity road such as a tunnel. Earlier this month, however, the agency agreed to work with the City of Dallas to conduct a fast-tracked feasibility study looking at the possibility of removal. This makes TxDOT one of a growing number of agencies considering the option of converting urban freeways into surface-level boulevards.
The facility in question is more than 40 years old and in need of immediate maintenance, so TxDOT says that major repairs will take place before any reconstruction or removal, which typically require up to a decade of analysis. Even then, the fate of I-345 may depend on a number of factors including whether an alternative bypass is in place, according to one member of the City Council’s Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee.
Not everyone is convinced that the existing highway capacity must be replaced, however. The founders of A New Dallas—a grassroots organization largely responsible for pushing the idea of removal forward—argue that travel demands can be met through a combination of existing regional highways, the city’s local street network, and better transit, and that demands will change once new development opportunities open up where the freeway currently stands. That was the case when the city of Seoul, South Korea, removed its Cheonggyecheon expressway, which carried traffic volumes similar to those on I-345, in 2005. Other freeway segments have been removed in Milwaukee, New York, Portland, and San Francisco, with similar outcomes.
While many groups are still unsure of which option is best for the city of Dallas and the surrounding region, many agree that a study is necessary. Among those groups is the Real Estate Council of Dallas, which agreed to contribute $125,000 for the study. With the proposed feasibility study, TxDOT will join a handful of other state DOTs that are currently considering the removal of major urban freeways, including those in California, Michigan, and New York (Buffalo and Syracuse). Depending on the rigor with which the I-345 study is conducted, the findings could be game changing. For example, by incorporating data from cellular phones, the North Carolina DOT found that U.S. Route 1 in Moore County carries far less through-traffic than was originally believed, altering the way the agency will plan for future travel demands in the county. It’s not yet clear what the scope of the I-345 study will be.
Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.
By Chris McCahill