The Texas Department of Transportation has proposed a major rebuilding of Northwest Highway between Lawther and Audelia to debottleneck the Buckner intersection and elevate the roadway above White Rock Creek floodwaters. Without the project, TXDOT’s traffic projections portend solid gridlock in the years ahead. Despite opposition from neighborhoods and legitimate concerns about the project, it appears to be a done deal.
TXDOT’s proposal is to raise Northwest Highway an average of 16 feet over the White Rock Creek floodplain between Lawther Road and Flagpole Hill. A new auxiliary road would be built with on and off ramps at Buckner. The hike/bike path at Lawther would be routed under the elevated road.
At the cast end, the project would include construction of a 28-foot overpass to carry Northwest Highway over Buckner. Audelia would be redirected to the west through several acres of park land to connect with Buckner. The abandoned stretch of Audelia would be removed. The entire project, estimated at $13.2 million, would include four bridges totaling 800 feet in length and 935 linear feet of retaining walls.
Let’s assess the pluses and minuses of the proposed project. On the upside, it will eliminate the bottleneck at the current Buckner/Northwest Highway intersection, allowing continuous traffic flow north to south and east to west. The awkward lane crossing from Buckner to Audelia would be eliminated. Elevating Northwest Highway would prevent road closures due to flooding, and bikers and joggers would no longer have to cross Northwest Highway at Lawther.
On the downside, the realignment of Audelia would eliminate a net of 6 ½ acres of park land. Although the northwest corner of Audelia and Northwest Highway is certainly not the crown jewel of the Dallas park system, it is home to three dozen or more mature trees that would be cut down.
Although any loss of public open space in Dallas should be avoided if possible, the Park Department has added over 550 acres of park land in the past two years. So the loss of 6 ½ acres is not devastating. The Public Works Department is promising to replace trees at a 3:1 ratio in the Audelia park area.
Opponents of the project have raised legitimate concerns. For instance, earlier this year, TXDOT was forced to reschedule the public hearing for the project for June after a neighbor informed TXDOT officials that it had failed to provide the required public notice for the hearing. The apparent lack of serious consideration of an at-grade alternative for a Buckner-Audelia intersection has drawn criticism. Also, will the new road embankments actually worsen flooding? These concerns and others need to be addressed.
Despite ostensible TXDOT shenanigans and the, as yet, unaddressed neighborhood concerns, it appears the project has little chance of being halted because of the money at stake. Out of the projected cost of $13.2 million, Dallas County would pay $320,000 – or a bit more and the City would chip in a mere $100,000. The City and County are not about to pass up all that free road work courtesy of the State of Texas. Moreover, projects of this type pose a minimal risk to local politicians because the number of people whose daily commuting would be improved by the project far exceeds the number of residents who will be adversely affected.
Despite the project’s seeming inevitability, rest assured its opponents will not go quietly. So fasten your seat belts, the road ahead could get a little bumpy.