Time to tear down Central between downtown and Deep Ellum?

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on November 28, 2012 at 6:09 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 28 at 6:43 PM

DALLAS -- For decades, a one-mile stretch of elevated highway was considered the divide of Dallas, the segment of Central Expressway that split Deep Ellum from the rest of downtown.

Now, almost 40 years after the highway opened, there are calls for it come down.

“I see a relic of the 1950s, 1960s era of city planning that has been completely destructive to our city,” said Patrick Kennedy. He lives downtown and is part of an advocacy group demanding the highway go.

“I think it should be torn out completely,” he said.

Kennedy, who works as an urban planner, has sketched out alternatives and even planned out the impact on surrounding neighborhoods on his blog, Walkable DFW. He said the highway should be replaced simply with buildings and homes -- not another freeway.

“We can replace it with people living here that would be able to walk downtown to jobs, walk to parks,” he said. “We should demolish it and restitch the grid, the historic urban grid between Deep Ellum and downtown.”

More than 150,000 drivers rely on the highway everyday (which is technically considered IH 345, connecting Woodall Rodgers to Interstate 30). Those commuters are likely not enthusiastic about the possibility of more gridlock.

Yet when other cities have torn down urban highways, Kennedy insists traffic simply adapts. Drivers either avoid the area, use other roads or public transportation.

The highways, he said, only feed the suburbs.

“It makes it cheaper and easier to live further and further out,” he said, “rather than living right here instead.”

The Texas Department of Transportation will hold a public meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11, to discuss the future of the highway. Although TxDOT says tearing down the highway is one option, it will likely focus more on repairing and improving the highway.

In a statement, TxDOT said the bridge “is in constant need of maintenance. Those maintenance issues must be addressed. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Nine possibilities for the bridge will be presented to the public during the community meeting next month, ranging from repairing it to tearing it down.

Neighbors in Deep Ellum are unsure what to think of the proposal.

“Deep Ellum has a long history with Central… the city lost much of its heritage when Central went through there,” said Sean Fitzgerald, president of the Deep Ellum Community Association.

Crews tore down blocks of historic buildings to make room for the elevated highway back in the early 70s. It created an imposing divide between Deep Ellum and downtown. To cross between the two neighborhoods, residents must walk under the tens lanes of traffic roaring overhead.

To encourage more pedestrian activity, neighborhood groups added lights and murals to the highway’s pillars. Parks were built under its decking.

Fitzgerald, who lives two blocks away, said the area has learned to live with the highway.

“We’ve adapted around it,” he said. “This neighborhood is open to change or open to new ideas, we’re just not going to lay down if it’s not something that helps us… We just have to see how it would fit into our community fabric.”

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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