Texas Department of Transportation officials in a public meeting Tuesday night unveiled their plans for the Canyon redesign of the below-grade roadway on Interstate 30 that separates downtown and the Cedars.
The $300 million construction project for the depressed roadway on I-30 between I-35 and I-45 and I-345 — known as the “Canyon” — is the next step for the transportation agency’s overall plan to redesign the highway and stitch together South Dallas with downtown.
The makeover is part of the agency’s goals outlined in the Dallas City Center Master Assessment Process, CityMAP, and supported by council members in 2016 to improve connections between neighborhoods, access to the high-speed rail line and development potential. TxDOT has the project divided into sections; after the Canyon, officials would then start to look at the revitalization of Fair Park in South Dallas.
“Whatever we build with the canyon is compatible with future development plans, said Ceason Clemens, deputy district engineer for Dallas’ TxDot district. “We’re headed in the right direction. Now we need to make sure that the rest of the stakeholders agree.”
The Interstate 30 Canyon redesign proposes six freeway lanes for both westbound and eastbound directions. State transportation officials said the first swath of I-30 could be approved as early as fall after the public comment period ends Nov. 13, with construction slated to start in 2022.
TxDOT and city officials said they have been working together closely this time around and meeting regularly to ensure they’re on the same page. Earlier this year, TxDOT’s rendering for the I-30 redo caught city officials by surprise.
“We have great cooperation on that now,” said Michael Rogers, Dallas director of transportation. “When we sit at the table and we start to have constructive dialogue, we can get so much done.”
These plans incorporate up to over 14 acres of surplus land, and the city’s draft plans include two deck parks — on a swath between Griffin and Akard and Canton and Cadiz streets and on three fingers of land between Harwood and St. Paul just north of the Dallas Heritage Village. The city proposed the second deck park to be divided for natural ventilation to reduce costs.
Peer Chacko, director of planning and urban design at the city, said the plans manage to add capacity on the highway while reducing its footprint. TxDOT could sell the surplus land to the city, county or school district, which all have the right of first refusal before it opens up to private owners.
“We’re creating new properties that didn’t exist before,” Chacko said.
TxDOT officials say they’re still in the process of gathering public comments. But the next big challenge is for the agency to secure agreements with railroad companies before they begin construction three years from now. They also said no plans for the Interstate 30 Canyon would impact proposals for I-345, a highway that several council members have supported tearing down to reconnect Deep Ellum with the downtown core.
William Baker, who lives in downtown and owns a design and architecture business in the Cedars, strongly supported the deck parks but remained skeptical of having one with disconnected parcels of land that are attached to a private park. He said he wants to see a plan with more unified blocks and as much connectivity as possible for pedestrians.
Dallas City Council member Lee Kleinman, who heads the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Dallas’ plans are still in the early stages. But he also said the parks are essential to the city’s goals: maximizing green space at every opportunity and increasing property values in the area.
“We are very light on green space in this city,” Kleinman said.
Dallas officials will still need to approve its added amenities and come up with more funding beyond TxDOT’s portion.
But Rogers said the city has learned tough lessons from previous plans that didn’t put enough consideration into the needs of neighborhood residents.
“If we go in not learning from these past projects, we’re doomed,” he said Tuesday night. “We need to talk about the neighborhoods.”