When word came down Tuesday of a new PAC intended to support getting rid of Interstate 345, the freeway bridge that cleaves downtown Dallas from Deep Ellum and connects I-45 to U.S. 75, one of the most interesting names listed among the PAC's supporters was former state Senator John Carona.
Carona, who was ousted by a primary challenge from the Tea Party-backed Don Huffines, has stuck his neck out on the Trinity toll road as well, changing his mind on a project he'd long backed. We gave Carona a call to ask him about I-345 and his change of heart.
"If we don't take a much broader look at economic development and planning in the city, the day will come, I'd argue sooner rather than later, when people simply can't afford to live in Dallas anymore and the continued migration to the suburbs only accelerates," he says.
Tearing down I-345 will, in Carona's estimation, help spur the kind of development he says the city needs, allowing Dallas to fight the economic drip into the suburbs.
"It's obviously a huge oppurtunity in terms of economic development because of what it frees up in terms of real estate, but really what that means is that it's an opportunity to bring jobs into a part of the city that desperately needs that," he says. "For years, too many years in fact, people in South Dallas have had to travel all the way to North Dallas [to work] and it only continues to get farther."
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Dumping I-345 will spur job growth in southern Dallas and East Dallas, Carona says, helping to fix that problem. That's what the PAC is about he says, spurring growth and "putting back together the city as it once was." Despite tearing down I-345 being WalkableDallas' Patrick Kennedy's baby, the I-345 PAC is purposely being kept separate from the toll road issue.
"I happen personally to be opposed to the toll road, but we've got a number of supporters of the I-345 initiative that are actually very strong supporters of the toll road," Carona says.
As for why he changed his mind about the toll road, Carona says too much time has passed, and too many thoughtful people are opposed to the toll road.
"Though I most recently am opposed, I for years was a big supporter of the toll road. I worked in Austin to get funding and really believed it was the answer," he says. "It's just, the toll road has had so much controversy around it for so long and the vision has changed so many times. I think, if I've learned nothing else in public office over the years, it's that you need to listen to your constituents and there are a lot of good, smart people that love this city that are very concerned, increasingly so in fact, over the toll road. While ultimately the toll road might get built, and it might be the greatest thing we could possibly have done, I think we owe it to those smart dedicated people to listen to what they have to say."