Should We Tear Down Urban Freeways?

By | August 8, 2013

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There’s been a bit of ruckus lately surrounding the unknown fate of the 1.4 miles of Interstate connecting U.S. 75 and I-45 in Dallas. Officially known as Interstate 345, most maps and even the signs on the road itself classify this short connector as Highway 75. However, its impact is much more significant than its presence on the maps. I-345 cuts right through downtown Dallas, and moves over 160,000 cars per day. This entirely elevated freeway is in dire need of repair, though. 

The entirely elevated Interstate 345 in Dallas is in serious need of repair. Source: Interstate Guide

The entirely elevated Interstate 345 in Dallas is in serious need of repair. Source: Interstate Guide

I-345 has already been repaired 3 times in the past 12 years. It has hundreds of fatigue cracks and spot welds. TxDOT is considering two options: either continue to repair it or to rebuilt it entirely. Well, A New Dallas is offering a third option to tear down the freeway and leave it that way. After all, what better way is there to reconnect downtown to Deep Ellum? Let’s take a look at the implications:

Traffic

According to a statistic on the website for A New Dallas, 75% of traffic on I-345 is neither entering from nor exiting to downtown Dallas. While it seems like tearing down a major freeway such as this one would cause enormous traffic problems, the opposite is actually true. In the case of the West Side Highway in New York, 53 percent of vehicle traffic simply vanished once the highway collapsed and was never rebuilt. In short, the only reason people are travelling on this highway and many other urban highways if because of the fact that it’s there. Essentially, commuters are just using downtown Dallas as a bypass to wherever they need to go. If it is torn down, the remaining traffic will simply reroute to I-30 and I-35E, going around downtown instead of through it.

Economy

TxDOT is $17 billion in debt. It has no money to rebuild I-345 in downtown Dallas. Furthermore, throughout the site, there are a little over $81,000 in improvements per acre, which is less than most sprawl. Tearing down the freeway, in theory, would increase land values throughout the area significantly. Both improvements and tax revenue would increase, leading to a significant amount of money being put back into the city.

Environment

It’s no question that busy freeways contribute to unhealthy air conditions and increased ambient temperatures. A highway tear-down in Seoul, for example, led to an 8°F decrease in temperature in the area. Also, carcinogenic airborne particulate was reduced significantly. If I-345 was torn down and replaced with new parks and businesses, both environmental conditions and land values would improve.

Other Examples

These types of highway removals are becoming a bit of a trend in the United States and around the world, and for a good reason. Some current large-scale highway remove projects include those in Providence, Baltimore, and Oklahoma City, to name a few. The Oklahoma City project is particularly fascinating to me in particular. Interstate 40 was moved south and a gateway boulevard is being built in its place.

A rendering of the new Crosstown Boulevard in Oklahoma City.

A rendering of the new Crosstown Boulevard in Oklahoma City.

If it wasn’t already blatantly obvious, my answer to the question given in the title is a yes. In many situations, urban freeway removals are a boon to the local economy and public transportation systems and should be considered in many more cities across the world.

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2 thoughts on “Should We Tear Down Urban Freeways?

  1. Casey

    The stats don’t lie. If only 25% of the traffic on I-345 is originating or terminating in downtown Dallas and money for rebuilding it is scarce, I don’t see how one could argue that it should be left as an urban freeway. After a one-time investment to remove it, the DOT would off the hook for maintenance. Looking at Google Maps, a typical I-345 trip from Richarson (NE suburb) to Wilmer (SE suburb) takes 32 mins via downtown but it only takes 7 minutes longer to use I-635… and that’s on a Sunday. I would guess that it ends up to be faster to take I-635 during the week.

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  2. Alex

    I think there are cases where you can tear down an urban freeway. In the case of I-345, I strongly oppose the tear down option. It would be just as bad as tearing down I-30 for 2 miles in Downtown Fort Worth and having hundreds of thousands of cars dump into the city streets. I-45 / I-345 / US 75 is basically one large 6 to 8 lane freeway from south of Houston to north of McKinney. That is the reason why only 25% of the traffic goes downtown. It is a major thoroughfare, and that traffic is not going away. If you think 635 is bad now, how about dumping another 100,000 cars a day on it. Or how about Woodall Rodgers? Think it’s bad now? Add another 100,000 cars a day on it. The mixmaster will be a parking lot. You cannot remove a major interstate freeway and expect the nearly 200,000 cars to just “figure it out.” Those cars are not going away because you remove it, because by your own stats, 75% of the traffic is thru traffic.

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