Mayor Johnson’s Priorities for Federal Infrastructure Dollars: I-30, Harold Simmons Park, Vision Zero

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The lobbying work for federal transport dollars has started. Mayor Eric Johnson sent a letter to US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday outlining his three priority projects that could be funded by the $ 1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Employment Bill.

Johnson included the eastern burial and extension of Interstate 30; Harold Simmons Park, which planners hope will exist between the levees between downtown and West Dallas; and a number of projects to help the city achieve its Vision Zero initiative to cut all road deaths in half by 2030.

“While we have huge infrastructure needs across our city and will discuss other transformative ideas in the future, these projects in particular immediately stand out as a top priority for Dallas,” Johnson wrote.

That money flows quickly and it’s not hard to see why Johnson chose to do what he did. They fall into the bucket as defined in the legislation.

Federal agencies will receive $ 550 billion for distribution over the next five years. The largest part, $ 110 billion, will go towards roads and bridges. (Interstate 30.) Approximately $ 11 billion is being moved to safety. (Vision Zero.) And $ 1 billion will go to “Connecting Churches,” which is surely the argument the Trinity Conservancy makes for Harold Simmons Park as it raises money and produces renderings.

Johnson writes that these are “equity-driven initiatives in Dallas.” Interstate 30 east of downtown will be buried underground as it stretches across downtown to Ferguson Road. This is the section of the freeway that did real damage in the 1960s that continues to this day, physically separating what is now East Dallas from the neighborhoods south of the freeway.

“This freeway was designed to meet the needs of the people traveling through and out of our city without considering the needs, health or safety of the Dallas residents who lived in close proximity,” Johnson writes . “Today, the motorway is a clear symbol of the gap and inequalities that have historically arisen due to the regional transport infrastructure.”

The freeway is elevated as it exits downtown near Fair Park and then heads east on an embankment. Burying would at least remove that barrier and allow the city to reconnect the road network. The Texas Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the city and the North Central Texas Council of Governments, is planning to build bridges over the buried highway, which can be provided with a pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. Many roads are being redesigned to better connect the road network that was destroyed when the motorway was built.

But the state would never pay the bill for the proverbial bells and whistles – mostly deck parks, but also infrastructure that could enable these bridges to hold buildings. Additional federal funding could help make this a reality, and would at least give the city an opportunity to move these things forward in design. Elsewhere, many of the awkward driveways are being removed, freeing land for new developments.

The state still wants to add one lane in each direction, plus an additional reversible managed lane in the center, so that the highway has 12 lanes. As the mayor notes, the original freeway was built to get people moving around Dallas, not to improve transportation within the city. Despite all the good intentions, the state plans to widen the road.

Harold Simmons Park is far away. In 2018, the Trump administration allocated $ 5 billion for flood protection projects in Texas. Of this, $ 275 million will go to the US Army Corps of Engineers for improvements to the levees. The work will take six years and the park’s designs will be put on hold until the Corps drafts its project.

That brings us to Vision Zero, the international initiative to eliminate road deaths. As Johnson notes, Dallas has the second highest traffic death rate among the 15 largest cities in the country. As you probably know, either by writing on this website or from your own experience of walking and driving around town, Dallas is designed to encourage risk.

Many of our streets are highways, six-lane giants that encourage speed. There are more than 2,000 miles of unpaved road. In fact, of 4,400 miles of pavement in the city, only 1,200 are undamaged or unobstructed. We have pitifully underprotected bike lanes, and data has shown that narrower roads lead to slower speeds, which saves lives.

But the momentum for such things is increasing. The city’s long-awaited mobility plan was released earlier this year, calling on the city to come up with a new sidewalk plan, update the 2011 cycle plan and pave a path forward to Vision Zero. Johnson hopes a federal injection of cash will advance these projects across the city.

This formal Vision Zero plan – many plans in this city – will be unveiled in 2022. And if Dallas is serious about containing the traffic deaths, it needs to spend some money on street design. Plan or no plan, we already know how to do it.

The federal government sent an unprecedented flood of cash to Dallas over the past year. Earlier this year, federal agencies announced that Dallas would receive $ 377 million in stimulus money to pay for WiFi in parks, expanded broadband services across the city, sewer and water infrastructure near new affordable housing, and a rapid relocation program for individuals could experience homelessness.

Elsewhere, federal grants have recently been used to fund the deck park over Interstate 35 near the Dallas Zoo, the 50-mile cycle path called LOOP, and technology improvement at the Inland Port in south Dallas. But there is no available pool of money the size of this infrastructure bill.

There are other projects that require federal funding but are not quite finished yet. TxDOT is expected to reveal its preference for the future of the elevated I-345 between downtown and Deep Ellum; Regional and local transport officials have voted in favor of his funeral rather than its removal. Nearby, Dallas Area Rapid Transit is completing designs for the D2 subway from Victory Park through downtown, but funding sources have already been identified for that. Other transportation projects, such as connecting the Oak Cliff Streetcar line to the McKinney Avenue Trolley, are not yet planned. Johnson writes that he highlights projects that are already buoyant – “compelling candidates for competitive funding programs” – as the federal government often prefers to spend money on projects that are more likely to be shoveled.

You can read the mayor’s full letter here.


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