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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