Transportation Planners Hesitant to Tear Down I-345, Because Poor People

The Texas Department of Transportation and its transportation-planning surrogates have unsheathed their latest weapon against the proposal to tear down I-345, and that weapon is poor people.

The argument was first voiced by Dallas Morning News editorial writer Rodger Jones, who wondered a few days ago why the urban types so eager to rid the city of the two-mile stretch of freeway separating downtown and Deep Ellum weren't equally concerned about S.M. Wright, which bisects a poor, black neighborhood in southern Dallas. As Zac Crain pointed out on Frontburner, Jones' argument is based on some faulty assumptions and just so happened to mirror TxDOT's talking points.

Yesterday, North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation director Michael Morris played the poor-people card once again, telling the DMN that the freeway is used heavily by the residents of South and East Dallas, many of whom are poor minorities. He referenced a meeting he attended recently with tear-down proponents.

See also: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings: Fix I-345 First, Talk About Teardown Later

"They were all white, they were very wealthy and I don't think any of them live in the neighborhood," he said.

There's a grain of truth here. Those most closely associated with the teardown push so far have been white downtownophiles, and any final decision must necessarily include input from all stakeholders. It's just a bit rich to see transportation planners suddenly discovering a passion for social justice.

In an email this morning Patrick Kennedy, co-founder of A New Dallas and leading tear-down proponent, calls Morris' argument "astoundingly cynical, patronizing, intentionally divisive, and ignorant of the history of I-30 and IH345 that ripped apart poor communities in the name of 'progress,' coming from people who are a part of creating the infrastructure-coerced car-dependence that is especially crushing on the poor."

The rest of his rebuttal is worth a read:

They've applied their one size fits all transportation model to the core city which, in order to function properly, needs to be high density and walkable. We've built a city where you have to own a car just to participate in the local economy. For some that means using half a pay check just to make a pay check, while spending a few hours a day commuting.

Their concern is how would people get to jobs in far North Dallas, failing to see the underlying problem of job spillage away from Dallas that is disconnecting people from jobs. We're trying to re-orient Dallas and the downtown vicinity as a center for investment, opportunity, and job growth. Cities throughout history have survived and thrived because they've been profit oriented. If we do it right, we can design our city in a way that all can benefit and take part in the revitalization of the urban core that's been forgotten. The right-of-way under the fossil that is 345 could give the city leverage for creating affordable housing where it needs to be, near jobs and transit.

I saw this coming a few weeks ago when First United Methodist Church in downtown asked me to come speak about 345. Given the attention 345 has been getting, it seemed a good opportunity to use 345 as a vessel for broader discussion about what is a city really for, which to me is about empowerment, opportunity, and improving quality of life. So I asked Reverend Gerald Britt and Larry James of City Square and Mark Lea of BC workshop (with Mark Lamster moderating) to join me in discussing how do we bring investment to disadvantaged areas, which just so happen to be the same ones isolated from the city by the highways.

In that "one meeting" where Michael Morris references, the only meeting mind you that he attended, the Mayor specifically stated that too often regional and state transportation has been at the detriment to the city of Dallas. He's right. We're essentially subsidizing people and jobs to flee the city. I am certainly not rich and haven't made a dime off this work in 5 years, which is how long it took me to get the ear of the power structure. Moving forward, we plan to continue this discussion, hopefully free of these selfish and divisive tactics by working with groups like City Square and their young professional organization City Squared to help with outreach.

Ultimately, this is about making Dallas livable again. Bringing the middle class back to the city to a vibrant urban core, which Dallas was before the highways, helps bring jobs, opportunity, and better schools back to Dallas. If half the car-owning households of Dallas county had the option to give up one car, that's $3.87 billion that would stay in the local economy. Individually people could do whatever they want with the savings, start a business, put it towards better housing, or save it. What we're trying to do is create a city that empowers, that instills choice, in mode of transportation and money. The best and smartest cities provide the greatest amount of choice. Their solution seems to be, build a highway for billions of dollars and say, "best of luck." Aren't there better ways to spend our public dollars? Like say, invest in our people and creating new opportunity for collective growth.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson