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Dallas City Council scheduled to vote on contentious I-345 plan

Cooper Neil for The Texas Tribune

Dallas City Council will vote on Wednesday to green light a state-recommended plan for Interstate Highway 345 highway or to fund yet another feasibility study. The Dallas City Council is scheduled to vote on two items related to I-345 during Wednesday’s council meeting.

I-345 is a 1.4-mile long, elevated six-lane “urban highway” first built in 1973. It connects Interstate 45 to U.S. 75 through downtown Dallas. Over 100,000 vehicles travel along the route every day, according to a state funded feasibility study.

One vote is on a resolution directing the city manager to conduct yet another feasibility study into the aging stretch of highway. It would look into economic, environmental and equity concerns for the different options.

The other is to support the Texas Department of Transportation’s recommended option.

The scheduled votes come after months of controversy between community members, Dallas city officials and TxDOT executives over what to do with the decades-old highway.

Council members were presented with five options for what to do with the highway. Those included keeping the highway as it is right now, removing it and turning it into a boulevard — or the TxDOT recommended “refined hybrid” option.

That option would essentially “depress” the highway and build street infrastructure above it. TxDOT staffers have said that this is the most viable option for the city.

But what the state calls refined, others call a “trench.”

“I think it’s pretty obvious that I support the boulevard, and it’s obvious that staff is on the same bus with TXDOT on the trench proposal,” District 1 Council Member Chad West said in a statement in early May.

The boulevard option is the only plan that TxDOT says it will not fund. The cost to the city could be anywhere between $400 million to $1 billion in construction costs alone.

Cars and trucks roll on the I-345 during rush hour Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in downtown Dallas. Dallas city council has to decide to approve or not approve a TxDOT recommended option for the aging highway.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Cars and trucks roll on the I-345 during rush hour Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in downtown Dallas. Dallas city council has to decide to approve or not approve a TxDOT recommended option for the aging highway.

And community members say the city hasn't done it's due diligence in exploring other options that would reconnect downtown and Deep Ellum — the two communities the highway runs through.

Caleb Roberts is the co-chair for Downwinders at Risk, an environmental advocacy group focused on air pollution in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"There's been no discussion at City Hall of how to turn this decision about I-345 into an economic opportunity for the communities displaced by the highway 50 years ago," Roberts said in a statement released by the group. "...to reestablish neighborhoods and businesses where there are now only lanes of traffic."

Along with West, four other council members submitted a “five-signature” memo to City Manager T.C. Broadnax asking him to fund a feasibility study that looked at the different options. West says the plan needs to meet the city’s new environmental and equity standards.

TxDOT District Engineer, Ceason Clemens says the department has already done that work through the four-year-long state funded study completed in 2022.

“I would say we have already done the economic look…we looked at housing,” Clemens said at a committee meeting earlier this month. “I think we’ve hit every single one of the items you’re looking for.”

Dallas and TxDOT staffers have said the next phase of the project — assuming city council members approve the department’s plan — will include more research during a “market study.”

Some council members are worried that not approving the recommended plan could mean losing funding from the state. West says he’s not asking his colleagues to halt the plan all together — but he wants more answers.

“We won’t know the opportunities unless we study them,” West said in a statement.

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.