Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I-345 vs US-75: Daytime Employment

Rodger Jones of The Dallas Morning News points out that "daytime employment" in the city of Richardson is set to surpass the employment in Dallas' central business district. Jones acts like this fact argues against tearing out I-345 in downtown Dallas because, well, US-75 hasn't hurt employment in Richardson. Jones goes farther, seemingly arguing that Richardson's growth demands ever more freeways "criss-crossing the metro area" because, well, commuters have to get to Richardson.

After the jump, examining Jones' arguments.

First, there's the straw man argument.
During the sometimes-animated debate in recent weeks over the fate of downtown Dallas’ elevated highway, I-345, I challenged the principles put forth by proponents. It's clear many of them think freeways are bad, period. Some of them depict freeways as job killers and community despoilers, and they suggest urban society would be better off without them.

The absolutes from the one side in this debate have been astounding. Poor schools in Dallas? Highways at fault. Stagnant city job growth? Stunted neighborhoods? Highways again. How to fix all this? Get rid of some highways. Are these unfair oversimplifications? Blame the highways.
I've been following this argument of building freeways versus tearing them out for years now (for example, "Changing My Mind About Freeways") and I haven't heard serious opponents of ever more freeways make the blanket arguments Jones dismisses. Jones is guilty of unfair oversimplification of his opponents' arguments. I have heard serious people argue that the freeways encircling the Dallas central business district have contributed to the decline of downtown and the neighborhoods cut off from downtown. Are there other factors as well? Sure, but the freeways play an important role.

That brings us to Jones' supposed trump card. Richardson's "daytime employment" is set to surpass the employment in Dallas's central business district. Scratching my head, I can't figure out why that bolsters Jones' argument. It seems to me that there must be something holding Dallas back. Why can't that something be the ring of freeways that cut through existing neighborhoods decades ago and ever since has been slowly strangling the central business district?

In contrast, Richardson's growth is taking place with greenfield development. Even US-75 itself was built on open land. The latest employment centers -- Galatyn, CityLine, Palisades -- all are being developed on open land. Unlike in Richardson, there was no possibility of greenfield development in Dallas along I-345 and I-30 and Woodall Rodgers because those freeways weren't built through open land. Instead, already existing neighborhoods were cut in half and have slowly declined ever since.

The only thing in Richardson that is at all similar to that history in Dallas may be the aging businesses along US-75 by Spring Valley Rd. This stretch was developed decades ago at the same time US-75 itself was built. Today, it's in such sorry need of redevelopment the City of Richardson itself bought a decaying motel there in hopes of putting together a package of properties that would provide the basis of a catalyst project to spur redevelopment of the whole West Spring Valley Corridor. Lately, the city appears to be ready to admit defeat, as it has been unable to buy out the rest of the property owners on the block. The only proposal on the table is for a string of same-old, same-old pad restaurants along US-75 on the former hotel site. It turns out that US-75 by itself was no boon to redevelopment, as opposed to greenfield development, not even with the city taking the lead. Widening US-75 to fulfill Jones' vision of ever more freeways "criss-crossing the metro area" to accommodate commuters going every which way will just make the redevelopment challenge even bigger.

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