Big spaces, big cities, big freeways. This equation has held ground since the boom of major road developments in the 1970s. But a Dallas group lead by urban designer Patrick Kennedy is fighting that conception. He and his initiative, A New Dallas, are pushing a proposal that has been steadily gaining support since it began two years ago. Interstate 345 is an eight lane, 1.4 mile stretch of elevated highway that serves roughly 200,000 commuters weekly. Kennedy wishes to demolish the structure completely, replacing it with a major surface street, four new parks, $4 billion in new private investment, and homes for 25,000 Dallas residents.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings met with TxDOT’s district designer, Bill Halson, on April 1 to discuss the project. He issued a written statement applauding TxDOT for looking into the issue, while also noting that the city has no control over the department. Meanwhile, Kennedy called the decade-long investigative report a stalling tactic. TxDOT, however, claims that the thousands of commuters who use I-345 every day are part of an ongoing need that has to be taken into consideration.
The first question many ask is how demolishing the expressway will affect traffic. Counterintuitively, the removal of major expressways actually improves traffic conditions. Structures like I-345 operate under the principle of induced demand, which dictates that if something is there, people will use it. Major traffic jams, long commutes from work to home, and decentralized modes of commercial space (a.k.a. strip malls) do not occur because freeways are not big enough or long enough. Rather, they grow in proportion to the size of the freeway itself. Indeed, this demolition trend is catching on throughout the country, as more and more people realize how major expressways hinder growth.
I-345 was born in 1974, a time when developers believed that a commute’s efficiency was defined by how fast one could get into and out of the city. The consequent boom in highways throughout the nation resulted in residential developments expanding outward from a city’s business district, with strip malls and small businesses popping up in the vast concrete wake.
Now, however, experts say that urban sprawl can actually hinder, not contribute to, economic growth. They also note that removing the structure would not back up or halt traffic altogether. Rather, it would disseminate it through city side streets, creating a more even flow and possibly completely eliminating the type of traffic problems that are encountered, not in developed urban areas, but in the suburban sprawl enabled by major highways.
Indeed, at least six other cities have removed their traffic-chugging arteries. The resulting spaces have been reinvented into parks, cultural centers, public transit, and industrial developments. Kennedy said that the nearby side streets could handle the traffic flow, and that the installation of a major surface road could encourage the use of public transit, as well as facilitate the type of foot traffic seen in Klyde Warren Park.
These types of highway removal initiatives, which allow for a more harmonious blend of office, residential, and commercial space, result in more localized living that reduces the need to drive as frequently or as far. Less traffic also equals less pollution, an environmental bonus that Kennedy’s initiative has not addressed, but seems wholly feasible. Kennedy’s plan also makes Dallas a safer city, considering the risk factor of accidents resulting from high-speed traffic. As several other U.S. cities throughout the nation are considering similar removals, Kennedy’s observation that “this is a political and economic discussion more than it is engineering” may be spot-on.
So logistically, what would a demolition look like? On the financial side, $10 million dollars and ten years to research the demolition of I-345, after which an approximate 1.9 billion dollars would be funneled into its removal. Meanwhile, TxDOT’s $100 million dollar renovation of the highway is underway.