Puppet Samba

By pulling strings, road hustlers can make the city council dance

Question: If it's a toll road, why doesn't the toll authority pay for the whole deal? Isn't that what toll roads are supposed to do--pay for themselves? But it can't. There won't be enough traffic on the road to remotely pay the tolls needed to build an eight-lane toll road. Hence the need for the public subsidy.

So it's not a "freeway," because it won't be free. It can't meet the standards for an eight-lane freeway. And it's not a true toll road, because it can't pay its own way with tolls. It needs a major tax subsidy.

So what is it? What is it for? What test does it meet? What end does it serve?

The entire Trinity River saga, from the 1998 bond vote until now, has been a city council puppet show put on by the road hustlers.
Mark Andresen
The entire Trinity River saga, from the 1998 bond vote until now, has been a city council puppet show put on by the road hustlers.

It's a development road. It's an old-fashioned can opener, heavily lobbied by the public works contracting companies that brought us Ron Kirk as mayor, and by the Stemmons corridor landholding interests, who have played a major role in the political financing of key city council members. North Dallas member and Trinity road booster Lois Finkelman, for example, probably wouldn't even be on the council had it not been for the assistance she has received over the years from her campaign treasurer, George Shafer, a key figure in the Stemmons corridor group.

The close-in supporters of the road hope it will spawn the redevelopment of the worn-out warehouse district between the Stemmons freeway and the river. I'm convinced the Trinity toll road is also important to more far-flung interests associated with the secretive "Trans-Texas Corridor" project--a plan to build a new rail and rubber-tired freight route from Laredo to Ross Perot's airport in Tarrant County.

The Texas Department of Transportation told me last week that the full list of bidders on that project and their detailed proposals are still secret and cannot be released. I couldn't get Dean International, the Dallas lobbying firm heading up the project, to return my calls. But some of the bits and pieces of design I have been able to gather here and there make me think the diagonal northwest-to-southeast route offered by the Trinity highway could be important to this plan.

City council people never pay attention to this kind of stuff. I guess they don't have time. They tend to laugh at people who do pay attention and call them "wonks." Especially at Dallas City Hall, where the pressure from voters is distant and diffuse, politicians worry about the last biggest dude who leaned on them.

It's never you or I.

In fact, this Trinity highway business is the most powerful example I can offer you to illustrate what the Dallas City Council really is--a puppet show. That's why you and I do not get our lake, and the Stemmons corridor people and the freight haulers do get their road. They pull the puppets' strings. We do not.

I had a conversation about all this recently with Mayor Laura Miller and Mary Suhm, the chief assistant city manager. I asked them why we had to put off building the downtown lake as it was promised in the 1998 bond campaign and why we couldn't put off the highway instead. I asked why City Hall couldn't say, "We have to put the road off. There's not that much demand for it, and we're going to put all our eggs in that lake basket."

The mayor said quietly, "We're not going to do that. We need a road."

Later in the same conversation, I said, "Whenever I ask anybody how come the road cannot be put off, the answer is always, 'That's not going to happen.' But I don't get why. It's not like the Texas Department of Transportation is begging for this. It's not like the North Texas Tollway Authority is begging for it, or they'd put more money in it."

Mary Suhm said: "But we have to have a reliever route, Jim. What do you want to do? Do you want the air completely polluted and traffic at a dead stop in downtown Dallas?"

But this is not a reliever route. It's not a congestion buster. There are standards for those. This road doesn't meet those standards. You're not a giraffe. I'm not a llama. You can't call it by a name just to get your way. Reality is what it is.

I'll tell you what this road is: It's a straight-up scam. That's what all that slippery talk means. That's why the council members herk and jerk and scuffle about when you try to pin them down on it. It's why two weeks from now they will lift their wooden hands to vote for it. They're puppets. And you and I ain't the puppeteers.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help