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Could I-345 finally come down? Dallas City Council votes to replace elevated highway with lowered trench

The council approved allowing TxDOT to move forward with a long-discussed project that supporters say will help reconnect Downtown Dallas and Deep Ellum.

DALLAS — Dallas City Council on Wednesday gave TxDOT the green light to take down I-345 and replace it with a lowered trench. 

Discussions of the future of I-345 had been ongoing in Dallas political circles for roughly a decade. The 1.4-mile stretch of elevated highway that connects I-45 and US 75 has been long-criticized as a divider in the city’s downtown area. 

"This has been a years-long process, and some days were easier than others," said council member Omar Narvaez, the council's transportation and infrastructure committee chair.

The vote to move forward with the project passed unanimously, 14-0, after more than two hours of discussion.

About a dozen speakers advocated against the trench option, arguing it would do little, if anything, to reconnect Deep Ellum and southern Dallas neighborhoods to the rest of Downtown Dallas, as has long been the argument behind the elevated highway's removal.. 

Council member Chad West has been an outspoken advocate for replacing I-345 with a boulevard, which would dramatically slow traffic -- up to 50 percent -- according to a TxDOT study, but would reconnect the city and create up to 25 acres of opportunity for community development. 

“I’m not in favor of a highway of any type continuing to divide the neighborhoods of Deep Ellum and Downtown,” West said during Wednesday’s council meeting. “I’m going to begrudgingly support this.”

In Deep Ellum, the vote is being seen as a step in the right direction, at least.

“Simply from an aesthetic point, I think it’s great for the whole city,” said Jeff Brightwell, who owns Deep Ellum bar Dot's Hop House & Cocktail Courtyard. “A lot of people get a little nervous walking under those overpasses.”

West and other supporters of the option for complete removal got pushback from council members with concerns about the legality of removing I-345 along with its potential traffic impacts. 

“I-345 probably should never have been built, and it’s a tragedy that it destroyed minority neighborhoods when it was constructed 50 years ago,” council member Jaime Resendez said. “However, turning the highway into a boulevard would not bring those neighborhoods back.”

Council directed Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax to search for an estimated $2 million of funding for an independent study to review if the trench is indeed the best option for the I-345's future.

Council member Cara Mendelsohn raised budgetary concerns, saying that there is no money for the study. Furthermore, Mendelsohn noted, if the city were to pivot back to a boulevard option after approving the trench plan, it would be on the hook for $20 million in reimbursements to TxDOT for the engineering work in the interim. 

“What’s not going to ever happen is for it to be a boulevard,” Mendelsohn said. “We just have to deal with reality and move this forward.”

Replied West: "That’s a very suburban mentality which was existed since the 1950s in this city, and it’s time to rethink that. As we think about the density that’s coming to Dallas we’ve got to think about when is enough enough on highways."

According to TxDOT, I-345 carries about 180,000 cars a day. City officials said its busiest streets handle around 60,000. 

Council amended the resolution it passed to require TxDOT to brief the council every six months on its progress, to look into decking and capping the trench similarly to how Woodall Rogers Freeway is topped with Klyde Warren Park, and to be sure it follows policies and plans including the city's bike plan, its economic development policy and its Vision Zero safety plan. 

If the plan stays on track, the $1 billion project could start construction in 2028. 

"70 to 100 years from now we’re going to have to replace it with something else,” West said. “Between now and then, we’re going to have to live with whatever we come up with.” 

Added Brightwell: “It does feel like it’s been forever. I guess we’ll just have to wait till they start turning dirt to see where it really goes.”

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