For the most part, the debate over what to do with Interstate 345, the elevated strip of highway that cleaves Deep Ellum from downtown Dallas, has taken place in the abstract. Like the Trinity toll road, I-345 is a litmus test for where you stand in Dallas' ongoing fight toward whatever the city's transportation and urban future might hold. Anyone can see the connector is dilapidated; the issue is how to deal with it. Want to repair the sucker? Then you're Team Fix Traffic Problems By Building All The Roads. Think it should be torn down as quickly as possible? Then you're Team New Urbanist Car Hater. If I-345 gets fixed, the details are simple, the road gets fixed and things continue as they are. If it gets torn down, though, and a cut is made in the noose of freeways that surround downtown, figuring out what actually happens is a bit more daunting. The tear-down needs to be paid for, and the cars that traverse I-345 every day have to be given somewhere to go.
Earlier this month, the University of Texas at Arlington's Center for Metropolitan Density took a shot at developing three eventually cost-neutral options for replacing I-345.
"There's a lot of stories about, 'Oh gee, we can put 20,000 people there and traffic will learn to navigate around [the newly torn-down freeway] and all that kind of stuff," Michael Buckley, the center's director says. "We looked at three scenarios, one of which built a tunnel bypass and paved the tunnel over and made a giant park out of it — like the Woodall Rodgers kind of idea — and obviously opened up the core to Deep Ellum. Another group worked on a couple of boulevards on either [side] of the right of way and another group put a road literally on the sides of the elevated portion of [I-345] and tore the elevated portion down and made a park with the part that was torn down."
Of the three plans, Buckley and the center were especially excited about the park-covered tunnel plan, which would, according to the center's estimates, create more than 40,000 jobs, add homes for more than 14,000 Dallas residents and generate more than $318 million in taxes downtown, more than covering the costs of the potential freeway removal and park.
"On all of the ideas, we had to assume that TxDOT would not help us, because [I-345's] a perfectly good freeway," Buckley says. "That's a really big deal. To expect that TxDOT is going to sit there and say, 'OK guys, we'll help you tear down this perfectly good freeway' and not connect the ends is stupid."
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The tunnel proposed in the plan would cover that part, hoovering up the diverted traffic from I-345 that isn't absorbed by the grid.
"Eighty percent of the traffic on [I-345] is through traffic. Good, let it [go through the tunnel]. The other 20 percent can learn the way [on the grid]," Buckley says.
Buckley and his team outline myriad other amenities as well, presumably included with the intention of creating that $318 million. There's housing — both family-marketed, low-rise townhouses and high-rise apartments. There's a retail village and K-5 charter school. There's something called an urban entertainment center, complete with Victory Park-style video boards, a live music venue and nightclubs, that seems like it, in addition to being utterly redundant, would be anathema to anyone who likes Deep Ellum. There's even a monorail that would connect the newly created space between downtown and Deep Ellum to the existing neighborhoods.
It's weird, wild stuff, for sure, but at least we've got a real plan to talk about.