Find a back issue

Making Dallas Even Better

Tearing Down I-345 Is an Old, City-Backed Idea Lost to a Decade of Planning Bureaucracy

UPDATE: May 9, 3 p.m. As one of our commenters points out, and as I’ve confirmed through additional conversations with drafters of the plan, the reference in the Inside the Loop Committee’s plan to “rebuild ‘Central Boulevard’ from Woodall Rodgers to Commerce Street, bringing it to grade and connecting with improvements already in place from Commerce Street through Farmers Market” does not refer to I-345, and therefore, isn’t suggesting a teardown of the road. And so, I’ll refer to my response to Anonymous in the comments below and offer a hearty thanks, once again, to our brilliant and intelligent commenters.

Original post:

It’s time to stop talking about tearing down Interstate 345.

I know some of you have been waiting to hear that. If you’re somehow new to the conversation, what I’m talking about is that little stretch of road that links Central Expressway and I-45, the knot in the road-noose around downtown Dallas. Some people want to tear it down, and we believe it will completely transform Dallas for the better if we do.

But I think we need to stop talking about teardowns. After all, tearing down the highway isn’t really the point. What we really want is to do is build a new road: “Central Boulevard,” a street-level traffic artery that cuts through the eastern portion of downtown.

“Central Boulevard” is an old idea and an uncontroversial one. It dates back to recommendations for downtown that were created by the Inside the Loop Committee in 2003. Both in 2003, and in their final report in 2005, the Inside the Loop Committee agreed that of five suggested immediate improvements that downtown required, the top priority was the creation of the “boulevard system,” including the “rebuilding of ‘Central Boulevard’ from Woodall Rogers to Commerce Street, bringing it to grade and connecting with improvements already in place from Commerce Street through the Farmers Market.”

You know what that sounds a lot like? Yep. Tearing down I-345. And when you look at the renderings of the proposed improvements to downtown, that’s what you see: a central core without I-345 replaced by a series of boulevards that carry traffic while stitching back together the eastern portion of downtown Dallas.

The Inside the Loop Committee wasn’t exactly a grass roots organization of enthusiastic young urbanists like Patrick Kennedy’s A New Dallas. Commissioned by then-mayor Laura Miller and chaired by Belo Corp.’s Robert Dechard, committee members included everyone from Hamilton Properties’ Ted Hamilton to DCVB honcho Phillip Jones. Every major real estate player in downtown was represented, as were county and city officials, DART, city staff, and the hotel industry.

And it’s a really good plan. Some of the other suggestions include building a convention center hotel (check), adding the Woodall Deck Park (check), making sure pedestrian access is improved to the Dallas Arts District (check), and creating new downtown parks like what would eventually be called Main Street Garden (check). There’s also a call to extend the trolley into downtown, which is also happening. In fact, looking over the Inside the Loop Committee’s report is encouraging – we’re moving on so many of the recommendations. The only problem is that the most important immediate action item of them all – the “boulevard-ing” of the eastern portion of downtown – hasn’t happened.

So what happened?

As far as I can tell, Dallas planned itself out of this good idea. In 2009, the council hired a consultant (MIG) to create a fancy downtown master plan. According to the briefing then assistant city manager A.C. Gonzalez gave the council at the time (which included current incumbents Dwaine Caraway and Tennell Atkins), the consultant was supposed to build the plan for downtown on the foundation of the Inside the Loop Committee’s report. MIG was hired, and in April 2011, the council adopted their Downtown 360 plan. However, the idea of boulevard-ing the eastern portion of downtown was gone.

Not surprisingly, the plan created by the actual Dallas stakeholders, the ones who know the city, is much more specific, thought-out, bold, and ambitious than MIG’s plan, which is cluttered with pretty pictures of other cities that illustrate urban “do-this’s and do that’s” and feel cut and pasted from other generic urban plans prepared to fit multiple striving (and hiring) cities.

But Robert Decherd and his Inside the Loop Committee were on the mark, and they were much better at selling their vision than we have been. Tearing down highways sounds so wild, radical, and rash. It conjures images of bulldozers, rubble and twisted rebar. What an ugly idea – who could support that? Not me. I’m for the building of “Central Boulevard.” It will transform Dallas. It will lead to our city’s next big boom, if you will. The city already effectively backed the idea in 2005. Let’s get behind it again. It’s going to spark a downtown renaissance, and it will be exactly the same thing as tearing down I-345.

Here again is the Final Report of the Inside the Loop Committee from August 2005.

Here are the Committee’s Physical Plans for Downtown Dallas which show the planned “boulevard-ing” of Central with the I-345 removal:

2002 page 1

2002 page 2

2005 page 1

2005 page 2

.

  • Tim Rogers

    Wow. I am stunned that Patrick didn’t know about this (if he didn’t). And I am prepared to declare victory.

  • Wylie H Dallas

    Nice find, Mr. Simek!

  • Guest

    Please check the links. They do not appear to be working.

  • mdunlap1

    Good stuff.

    We proponents do need a language change for the action here: “teardown”, “tearout” sound destructive, regressive. “A new Dallas” is the right idea. “Boulevarding” is positive but too esoteric. What are some other options?

  • Patrick Kennedy

    I was not aware of it until this morning. I can guess why it died, as with most planning: no real economic development component.

  • Anonymous

    OK, Peter, is this a late April’s Fools joke or have you FB folks have gone from pushing a stupid idea to being just plain stupid?

    If you would bother to go downtown you would discover that the Central Boulevard project this describes on page plan-2005-2.jpg is under construction RIGHT NOW.

    From the plans you posted:

    “Rebuild Central Boulevard from Woodall Rodgers to Commerce Street by removing the overpass at Bryan Street….”

    Overpass removed when then built the DART line. Only remaining old section is over Ross Avenue.

    “…and realigning the southbound lanes to parallel the northbound lanes.”

    This is under construction south of Live Oak, though DART totally messed it up by adding that bizarre northbound jog at Live Oak. DART has done more to screw up pedestrian traffic in that area than I-345 ever did.

    “Remove the current connection from Central Boulevard to Pearl Street, thereby creating a larger and contiguous Carpenter Plaza.”

    Again, under construction.

    “Convert Pearl Street from two-way from Live Oak Street to Young Street.”

    Wow…guess what! Under construction!

    Needless to say there’s nothing in any of the plans about removing I-345. Not a word. It’s there on every one of maps. You’ve got I-345 on the brain so much that you’re imaging references that just aren’t there.

    By the way, when announced this project got a lot of flack. Why? Because it involved tearing down to of the oldest buildings in Dallas and because the boulevard is considered to be pedestrian unfriendly. How’s that for some irony?

    Since you obviously never go anywhere near the area and have no idea what you keep writing about, some links:

    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2011/09/chavez_expansion.php

    http://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/20130609-cesar-chavez-boulevard-to-be-closed-for-months-in-downtown-dallas.ece

    Well, I guess if all else fails you can say you were confused by the name change from Central Expressway to Cesar Chavez…

  • Anonymous

    Oh, he knows about it. From http://www.carfreeinbigd.com/2014/02/a-better-carpenter-plaza.html:

    “Again, this generates no new value. Nor does it address the surrounding network problems. Again, it’s an edge condition. A border vacuum in Jane Jacobs’ parlance, where life doesn’t exist. Great urban public spaces have centrality, in that all of the surrounding roads lead to them as they act as centerpieces for the surrounding neighborhoods.”

  • Anonymous

    Oh, he knows about it. And he’s against it. From http://www.carfreeinbigd.com/2014/02/a-better-carpenter-plaza.html:

    “Again, this generates no new value. Nor does it address the surrounding network problems. Again, it’s an edge condition. A border vacuum in Jane Jacobs’ parlance, where life doesn’t exist. Great urban public spaces have centrality, in that all of the surrounding roads lead to them as they act as centerpieces for the surrounding neighborhoods.”

  • Peter Simek

    No April fools. Just caught offside. I know about The Chavez expansion, of course, and the demolition of those buildings. What I don’t know, apparently, is how to read plans, because on closer view even though the green spaces are drawn OVER the highway, it is clear that in the light etchings the road still exists in this vision plan. So this entire post is moot, green, hastily conceived. And as I wash the mud off my face, I’ll toss a desperate parting shot: building boulevards all around the eastern portion of downtown without tearing down I345 is silly. But it’s true. We’re obsessed. OBSESSED! This ridiculous road! This concrete hysteria! This feverish insanity! The road! The road! The horror! The horror! And the summer hasn’t even hit yet. Drinking may start early today. Have a nice weekend.

  • Wylie H Dallas

    Note to Tim Rogers: please fire Peter Simek for incompetence.

  • Tim Rogers

    This is the best post ever. Nice find, Mr. Simek.

    (Hey, what else can you do but laugh? Don’t be so hard on yourself, Peter.)

  • FREDDY

    I’m still trying to get Haskell Boulevard finished from City Place to Fair Park and the Mill Creek Boulevard built from the Kessler Plan 100 years ago. Mill Creek was supposed to look like Turtle Creek today but was buried in sewers instead. Those two roads plus Central/Chavez Boulevard would relieve some of the traffic caused by tearing down the I-345 monstrosity and spark a lot of development in East Dallas all the way to Fair Park.

  • TheSlowPath

    That was a response to the original parks plan, not at all what Peter found. The parks plan calls for enlarging Carpenter Plaza up and under the highway. It doesn’t feature any proposal to change the elevated highway portion.