Digging in: To Buzz, it doesn't look like much--the tunnel on Good-Latimer Expressway on the northwest corner of Deep Ellum. It's dim, the traffic lanes are narrow, and the mural art lining it...well, it may be good for all we know. It's just hard to see it when you're whizzing by in your car after a night of drinking.
Then again, countless people, our mother among them, have suggested that Buzz doesn't know our own butt from a hole in the ground. This must be true, because an awful lot of people want to preserve it--the tunnel, we mean--from a proposal by DART to fill it in and build a light rail station at grade level in the median of Good-Latimer just north of Gaston.
Not so fast, say a number of Deep Ellum residents and business owners who have created an informal campaign to save part of the district's architectural history. They say DART should consider reinforcing the tunnel to support rail, boring under it or building a span over it. In any case, they want the tunnel to remain as the unofficial gateway to Deep Ellum.
Hurdie Burk, president of the Deep Ellum association, says he has been discussing the issue with DART, and he guesses that opinion among Deep Ellum denizens is running about 70-30 against filling it in. "You take that, what's next?" asks Burk, who like others wants to keep the neighborhood's historic "feel."
DART is listening, but engineering, traffic and pedestrian issues make preserving the tunnel a tough proposition, says John Hoppie, DART's project manager for the southeast corridor rail expansion, which will extend light rail service into Pleasant Grove by 2007. The line would follow Good-Latimer a bit before heading east to Fair Park down existing rail right of way.
"We appreciate the fact that there's emotional ties" to the tunnel, Hoppie says, but a tunnel is less than ideal for DART's plans to have two lanes of vehicle traffic plus pedestrian access from Deep Ellum to the new station. (The tunnel's defenders say crime there is not a serious problem, but walking through it to catch a train at night might not be appealing to those not accustomed to Deep Ellum's gritty urban "feel." You know, suburbanites.)
While Dallas City Council has yet to take up the issue, and there are countless engineering and bureaucratic steps before any plan is final, Hoppie says DART is aware of Deep Ellum's history and is working with the neighborhood to ensure that the station's design is a fitting "gateway." Among the ideas would be to include space for the artwork at street level.
Buzz would certainly welcome that. Drinking, driving and art appreciation are a tough mix, and we're certainly not going to give up drinking.
--Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams