Urban highway fight gets political in Dallas

By Eric Sundquist

I-345 is an aging, 1.4-mile-long elevated highway that separates downtown Dallas from Deep Ellum, a popular arts and entertainment district. It has also become a target for urbanists looking to remove downtown freeways.

This month a group of civic leaders announced the formation of a political action committee, Coalition for a New Dallas, that seeks to elect local officials who will push to demolish the freeway and replace it with surface streets as well as new housing, commercial buildings, and parks. The PAC grew out of work on this issue by the nonprofit A New Dallas, which argues that, “By replacing the repellant nature of a highway with a more attractive street and block structure and its immediate proximity to downtown, jobs, and amenities, Dallas could attract investment and population. The study area can support 25,000 new residents (and 50,000 [fewer] commutes) no longer needing highways to get to or from work. Instead, they could walk, bike, DART, drive on safer city streets, or even take a modern streetcar, paid for by this very investment.”

The teardown proposal has drawn interest from local media and is sure to be a topic of conversation at Congress for a New Urbanism’s 2015 annual meeting in Dallas. But Texas DOT has proceeded with a rehabilitation plan and the MPO has supported keeping the 200,000-vehicle-per-day freeway, albeit not without generating controversy.

The launch of teardown advocates’ electoral strategy, focusing on the May 9 city council election, comes after another anti-freeway PAC, Dallas Green Alliance, announced it would target city council races in an effort to stop the proposed Trinity Parkway toll road. The Dallas Morning News observes, “While they aren’t working in tandem, the two groups collectively pave the way for a council campaign season that will pit emerging philosophies about how cities should be planned against established approaches to traffic and congestion relief.”

Coalition for a New Dallas is too new for donor reports to appear on the Texas State Ethics Commission website. At their launch, PAC organizers said they had raised $255,000. Dallas Green Alliance registered with the Ethics Commission in October 22 and reported raising $7,380 through the end of 2014.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director of SSTI.