Escape from Oak Cliff: Six road-work projects to watch

Ithe late 1960s, the city of Dallas moved to make Oak Cliff a “fly-through” area from the suburbs to Downtown and northern Dallas.

They turned Tyler and Polk into one-way streets. And they created the Jefferson-Twelfth Connector through South Winnetka.

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Dangerous and deadly car accidents caused by speeding and street racing have gained a lot of new publicity recently, though it’s a problem Oak Cliff neighbors have been dealing with for decades.

“When the city thought no one should live in, or have fun in, Oak Cliff, they started to build these high-speed roads,” says Lee Ruiz of Winnetka Heights.

That mid-century traffic engineering left our neighborhood with too many unbroken stretches of multi-lane roads that encourage speed. But now we are taking it retro, slowing things down and restoring the grid destroyed by Jefferson-Twelfth and changing Tyler and Polk back to two-ways.

That is, once we get through all the other roadwork projects currently underway.

1. Jefferson-Twelfth Connector

his four-lane stretch of roadway connects the 1300 block of West Jefferson with the 1000 block of West Twelfth.

The city demolished 20 historic houses to create it in the ’60s.

That loss did have the positive effect of sparking preservation activism in Oak Cliff, leading eventually to the creation of Winnetka Heights Historic District and Heritage Oak Cliff.

But it also created a .75-mile speedway through residential streets, plus two turn-only intersections that are confusing and feel unsafe.

“It was very disrespectful to the people who lived there at the time,” says Ruiz, who is president

of his neighborhood association.

A $2-million earmark in the 2017 bond will fund a project to remove the Jefferson-Twelfth Connector and restore the neighborhood grid to its original form.

Once the connector is gone, the through streets at Clinton, Winnetka and Willomet — now dead ends — will reopen between Jefferson and Twelfth.

Neighbors believe it will make their streets safer and more walkable. A few homeowners will regain their rights over square-footage lost with diagonal cuts across corners of their properties to form the roadway.

In other places, the return of the grid will open new real estate. The city can sell the 20 lots and put that property back on the tax rolls.

Any new development would have to meet the historic district’s standards, Ruiz says.

Certain roadways in Dallas, including this one, require “thoroughfare amendments” before any changes can be made to them. That requires approval from the City Plan Commission and City Council. They are expected to take up the issue late this year or early 2019.

Once approved, work could begin in early 2020, and the project is expected to take about two years to complete.

The Oak Cliff neighborhood where cars crash into houses

A car once crashed and landed in Jesse Arriaga’s side yard, coming to a stop just a few feet shy of his house and fenced backyard.

Another time, a speeding car slammed into a curb diagonal from his house and went spinning across the intersection, hitting the opposite curb so hard that the car caught air, landing upside down not far from Arriaga’s front door.

So many cars have crashed into his property in the past 30 years that he’s lost count — at least five or six.

All four houses squaring up the intersection of Oak Cliff Boulevard and Twelfth Street have been struck, one of them just this past September. And the driver of a speeding car died, injuring three others, after colliding with a DART bus on Twelfth and Polk Street in July.”

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2. Tyler/Polk two-way and roundabout

Mexico City has Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl, the volcanoes representing star-crossed lovers who died tragically and are left to gaze across the valley to one another for eternity.

Oak Cliff has Tyler and Polk, two powdery old presidents and one-way streets that subtract from our neighborhood’s original intent.

City Councilman Scott Griggs began working on a plan to restore the two-way structure of those Oak Cliff arteries when it became part of his district in 2013. It took many, many community meetings, a tabling at City Plan Commission and a second round of community meetings before City Council finally approved the plan in September 2016.

Intriguingly, it calls for a roundabout feeding into Sylvan Avenue near the entry to Kidd Springs Park and the Tuner Winston Block in Kings Highway.

“It’s such a wee bit of roadway, but it is paved with stolen pieces of our souls and flaming bills for axel repair.”

Where both streets feed into Polk, a traffic light will be added.

The $3.3-million conversion is a fairly simple fix, Griggs says. The budget will go to replacing stoplights, repaving and restriping streets, fixing curbs and potholes and replacing wastewater drainage.

That project is next on the list. Work on it could start once the roadwork project at Beckley/Commerce is released, Griggs says. But it also depends on the Texas Department of Transportation’s schedule for Zang Boulevard, where the Interstate 35 Southern Gateway project calls for work.

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3. Beckley/Commerce

There are only so many ways to get from Oak Cliff to West Dallas, and two of them were clogged for all eternity, or so it seemed.

It’s almost over.

The $7-million reconstruction of Beckley at Commerce is receiving finishing touches such as landscaping and improvements to the Beckley Overlook ramp.

The bike lanes randomly end just south of Interstate 30, but creating a safe route to the West Dallas bridge park is an improvement.

This project included reconstructing the intersection and replacing storm drainage and water mains. It features a rainwater absorption system that prevents runoff.

Griggs says he is proud they were able to preserve an old-growth pecan tree at the intersection.

4. Sylvan Avenue

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Oak Cliff families who have endured this commute for the past few years.

Sylvan Avenue between Interstate 30 and Singleton: It’s such a wee bit of roadway, but it is paved with stolen pieces of our souls and flaming bills for axel repair.

The City of Dallas promises a day when this stretch, treacherous for cars, pedestrians and bikes alike, will accommodate four lanes for cars with appealing landscaping and bike lanes all the way to the Design District.

It is not just a $7.66-million dream, friends. Winter 2019 is coming.

The delay here is utilities. Do you want high-speed internet, Oak Cliff?

The Sylvan project required AT&T and Spectrum to relocate their lines, which has taken much longer than expected. The project began in August 2017, and its completion date, while vague, is expected next year.

5. Jefferson Boulevard improvements

Rumbling along the uneven pavement of West Jefferson, drivers navigate parked cars’ backup lights and oft-rerouted lanes.

When a $2-million fix-up is finished, faux brick crosswalks made of colored stamped concrete will frame a lively section of the boulevard between Adams and Zang.

Trees recently were installed in the medians, which have new sprinkler systems. New overhead and low pedestrian lighting will add to safety and walkability in that burgeoning nightlife area.

Jefferson finally is back to four lanes after 18 months of construction, and the project is almost complete.

Oak Cliff roadwork cost estimates

Jefferson/Twelfth Connector /$2 million

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Eliminate roadway, reconnect streets and alleys

Tyler/Polk /$3.3 million

Turn two one-way thoroughfares into two-way streets with a roundabout

Beckley/Commerce /$7 million

Reconstruct North Beckley at Commerce, add bike lanes and signal, replace water main

Sylvan Avenue / $7.6 million

Create four-lane road with bike lanes and a median, replace water main

Jefferson Boulevard/ $2 million

Enhance intersections with faux-brick pavers, add landscaping, irrigation and lighting

West Davis sidewalks and bike lanes / $9.2 million

Create continuous sidewalks on West Davis, add bike lanes from Bishop Arts to Cockrell Hill

6.West Davis sidewalks and bike lanes

This project has been in the works since 2012, and it’s fully funded. But work to create bike lanes and wide sidewalks from Bishop Arts to Cockrell Hill Road keeps getting pushed back.

Is there ever a good time to tear up a main avenue fronted by dozens of local businesses?

Certainly not while Jefferson Boulevard also is under construction. The bike lanes and repaving, from Clinton Avenue to Cockrell Hill, will receive $4 million from city bond funds and $3.2 million from Dallas County.

The city also has $2 million to improve the sidewalks along West Davis, from Bishop Arts to Windomere. The project could begin once Jefferson is completed.

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