‘It’s never going to stop being a highway’: Dallas City Council approves thorny I-345 plan
The Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to green light a state recommended plan to remodel the aging Interstate Highway 345 — but with some revisions.
That’s the result of a dozen public speakers and an amended resolution that some council members say they begrudgingly voted to approve.
The amendment requirements include frequent project updates from the Texas Department of Transportation and the option for the city to “fully or partially withdraw” its support of the project.
It also directs TxDOT to include specific city policy in their engineering process. That includes racial equity and environmental policies the city adopted late last year.
The decision comes after controversy between community members, Dallas city officials and state transportation regulators over the best option for the aging stretch of highway.
Community members and activists have said the recommended plan won’t support different types of transportation, lacks data on environmental impacts and does not account for historical racism, they say has been splitting up Dallas communities of color for generations.
But some also see the amended resolution as a first step in a long process — and a testament to community organizing.
“I’m not surprised with the outcome,” said D'Andrala Alexander, co-founder of Dallas Neighbors for Housing. “But I think the amendments that were added were fairly strong and really represented the fact that we brought to light some of the things TxDOT really lacked.”
Refined hybrid or ‘trench’
IH-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.
Dallas city officials were presented with five options for what to do with the decades-old highway.
TxDOT recommended a “refined hybrid” option after a feasibility study was completed in late 2022. The plan would essentially “depress” the highway and build street infrastructure — or deck caps — above it.
Opponents of the plan call it “a trench.”
In early April, District 1 Council Member Chad West — along with four other council members — submitted a memo directing the city manager to hire an “independent consultant to conduct a feasibility study” of the highway options identified by TxDOT.
“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,” West said in a statement in early May. “So, if we are going to eliminate the boulevard, lets at least ensure the language in the resolution gives us (not just TXDOT) the ability to make the hybrid as compliant with our policies as possible.”
The removal — or “boulevard”— option is the only plan TxDOT officials said they would not consider at all. TxDOT and city staffers say the option leaves the city open to legal issues, impacts to traffic — and a $400 million to $1 billion price tag for construction.
“If we go down the route of doing a study…it seems as though TxDOT would not support that route,” Assistant City Manager Robert Perez said at a committee meeting earlier this month. “I just want to be clear…of where we’re headed.”
‘Cementing racial divides’
Residents packed into the small back room of a bar across the street from IH-345 on the night before the city council’s vote. They were there to talk about the removal of the highway and the historical significance of the plan.
“The history of America’s highways are rooted in racism, bigotry and discrimination,” Friendship West Baptist Church Pastor David McGruder said Tuesday evening. “These highways were built around Black and Brown neighborhoods cementing racial divides and isolating people of color from economic and social opportunities.”
McGruder says the reasons are obvious why communities that are split up by infrastructure are not in the “plan of the urban planners.”
Jerry Hawkins is the executive director of Dallas Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation. He says the conversation about IH-345 can’t exist without historical context.
“Stolen land is the first public policy of Dallas County…none of this belongs to us anyways,” Hawkins said. “The second public policy of Dallas County was stolen people.”
Hawkins says there’s a lot more work to do, but there is infrastructure in place to help.
“The city has an equity office and a racial equity plan,” Hawkins said. “We have the infrastructure to get what need to get done. We have to use it.”
The options TxDOT presented are based on a feasibility study the organization conducted over the course of four years. That study found that around 180,000 vehicles use the urban highway everyday – but that number is estimated to increase to 206,000 vehicles by 2045.
Community members and some Dallas officials say there needs to be more emphasis on racial equity in the highway plan.
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.”
Some Dallas city council members expressed their concern over the amended resolution. More than one city official said they were agreeing to the revised plan but were still hesitant. But at the end of the day, the council voted to approve the amendment 14-0.
District 11 Council Member Jaynie Schultz said removing the highway to build a boulevard was not an option because TxDOT “has said unequivocally that they will not sell” the city the land and “will not allow the option to move forward.”
“As frustrating as this may be, we must now make lemonade from this situation,” Schultz said. “To sweeten the bitter taste, we have assurances…from TxDOT.”
Those assurances covered in the amended resolution, introduced by Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez, include a project update every six months and a design process guided by Dallas city policy.
The policies TxDOT will use while coming up with plans for the highway remodel include the city’s Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan (CECAP), the Racial Equity Plan, the Economic Development Policy and the Street Design Manual.
The amendment also gives the city the option to “fully or partially withdraw” its support for TxDOT’s plan and directs Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax to investigate funding for more research into the remodel options.
City staff clarified that TxDOT would be looking for reimbursement from the city for any engineering costs already spent, should the city decide to move in a different direction.
Council Member Jessie Moreno represents District 2 and a large portion of residents who live along IH-345.
“I am still uneasy, frustrated and continue to have questions and concerns over the once in a generational project we have before us,” Moreno said during Wednesday’s council meeting. “However, I will be supporting the item brought forward.”
Moreno thanked residents for coming to the meeting to speak on the proposed plan and says he thinks a lot of the community’s concerns were addressed in the amended resolution.
Other council members appeared to be more firm in their support of the plan. District 5 Council Member Jaime Resendez says the highway provides valuable infrastructure.
“As a lifelong resident of District 5…I have used I-345 my entire life,” Resenddez said. “The time of southern Dallas residents is just as valuable as those who live elsewhere and should be treated with respect.”
Resendez says he is confident in the studies TxDOT has completed but understands the concerns of residents who say their communities have historically been split by highway infrastructure.
“I-345 probably should never have been built. It’s a tragedy that it destroyed minority neighborhoods when it was constructed 50 years ago,” Resendez said. “However, turning the highway into a boulevard will not bring those neighborhoods back.”
District 12 Council Member Cara Mendelsohn says fighting against this plan — and trying to remove the highway completely — is futile.
“People who have decided to make this their passion project, I would highly encourage them to instead focus on what it can be,” Mendelson said. “There’s a lot of great things that can happen, but what’s not going to ever happen is for it to be a boulevard.”
Now that the project has been approved, TxDOT and regional transportation officials can work to start the design phase. That includes a federally guided evaluation of the project — with the addition of looking at it through the different Dallas policy lenses.
Alexander says the there’s always been a question over transparency. She thinks the requirement for regular project updates can fix some of those concerns.
“The council was put on notice that we’re watching,” Alexander said. “These council people should be coming back to the community…and talk about what TxDOT is coming up with.
Hawkins says once you view the plan through a racial equity lens, more possibilities other than building yet another highway emerge.
“It is antiquated technology,” Hawkins said. “It is over. To be honest.”
Both Hawkins and Alexander agree that community has the power to change policy. Alexander doesn’t believe that TxDOT is used to this amount of community feedback for a project like this.
Dallas Neighbors for Housing is just one advocacy group that has been involved in the plan for IH-345. Among the others are environmental groups, historians and generations of community members working to have a say in what happens to their neighborhoods.
“For us, this is one of many fights about who is shaping Dallas,” Alexander said.
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