Jerry Holder, the Garver engineer who is director of the Connecting Arkansas Program of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, has at least a couple of times cited highway construction in Dallas as an example of why Little Rock needs to widen Interstate 30 through downtown to 10 lanes. He has said Dallas was dying; widening the highways into the city rescued it. I’ve tried to get in touch with him for specifics about this, but have not been able to yet.
So let’s turn our attention to Dallas. Specifically, to A New Dallas, which advocates for the removal of Interstate 345, an elevated highway “defining the eastern boundary of downtown Dallas between Woodall Rodgers to the north and RL Thornton (I-30) to the south. It was built 40 years ago and currently divides downtown from Deep Ellum and Near East Dallas.” Deep Ellum was a vibrant African-American commercial district that began to decline after World War II as the automobile replaced rail lines and another expressway, I-75, was built.
Dallas residents have been talking about removing I-345 since 2012 and creating a park in the 245 acres now covered in concrete. The Texas Department of Transportation wants to fix it, instead. According to some reporting, the issue has brought a change in the membership of Dallas’ City Council, where two supporters of tearing down I-345 defeated highway supporters and another backed off his support for the Trinity Parkway, a controversial $1.5 billion, nine-mile, six-lane toll road that would run through the heart of Dallas. D Magazine, which once supported the Trinity Parkway, changed its position on the project; magazine owner Wick Allison told a reporter for the Dallas Observer why:
“In 2010 I received from [former City Manager] Mary Suhm a disc that contained a charette [architectural study] about I-30. The construction company that had been hired by TxDOT to widen I-30 had brought in their brightest people from around the country to look at the project. And these guys had gone rogue. They did a charette saying, ‘They [Dallas officials] don’t need to widen I-30. That’s the exact wrong thing to do. They need to take it below grade, put an esplanade on it and reconnect the city.’ ”
The council has now reached a compromise on a four-lane parkway.
Back to I-345. New Dallas creators Patrick Kennedy and Brandon Hancock relate a familiar-sounding scenario: “None of the current proposals [by TxDOT to repair or rebuild the highway] include the removal of the highway section and the reconstruction of the historic grid to knit downtown back to its eastern neighborhoods as cities around the country and globe are doing. We suggest doing just that. However stated on their website, proper weight is not being given to considerations other than moving vehicular traffic. As we’ll demonstrate in the traffic section, the 160,000 vehicles per day that use the corridor are there only because the highway is there. And both downtown and East Dallas suffer from it.”
Here’s a history of the impact on African-American neighborhoods from the construction of I-345, how it “severed the social and economic fabric that bonds communities together.”
Rather than wider interstates, as Holder said, maybe the health of Dallas’ economy can be traced to Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which includes light rail and which voters created with a penny sales tax.
Here’s another thing Dallas did: It built Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2 acre “deck park” over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway (a spur of Texas Highway 366) to connect areas of Dallas that had been divided by the highway. Little Rock artist and architect George Wittenberg, who founded the Urban Studies and Design Program at UALR, once proposed such a park over I-630 to reconnect what is now called SOMA with downtown and bring new life to the Pettaway neighborhood south of the Arts Center.
No, Little Rock is not Dallas. Maybe another reason that 10 lanes downtown is too many.