Flood Blood

Politicians create flooding, not the Bible

But that's small potatoes next to the Trinity River project. I checked with Gene Rice, the Corps of Engineers project manager for the Trinity River project, to make sure I was still right about what I've always thought was the most astounding aspect of the project--that at a cost of billions, it actually makes flooding worse.

Rice doesn't put it that way. But he did concede that the project had to seek a special "variance" to cover the fact that it "reduces valley storage," a technical concept. Let me give you the shorthand: It increases runoff.

Surprise, surprise: I mean, they're cramming a freeway down there right along the riverbank and paving everything in sight. Don't forget the series of "Signature Bridges" they want to build for decoration.

Even though people die in floods in this area on a regular basis, the Dallas City Council voted to allow houses to be built in the Bachman Creek flood zone.
Steve Satterwhite
Even though people die in floods in this area on a regular basis, the Dallas City Council voted to allow houses to be built in the Bachman Creek flood zone.

The backers will insist all day long that the Trinity project improves protection for downtown Dallas. Sure, but it does it the old-fashioned way, by shipping all the water south and making things worse in Southern Dallas County.

After the great Mississippi River floods of 1993, the White House ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to study why annual flood damage in this country had tripled since 1951 in spite of huge sums spent on flood control. The Corps' Galloway Report in June 1994 said squeezing water behind levees and then allowing people to build houses and factories next to rivers and streams just makes things worse. The only way to improve flood protection is to back away from the rivers and streams and allow the rain to soak into the earth.

The Trinity project does the opposite. It paves the riverbank, squeezes the river and dumps the water down Joe Tillotson's way. Luckily for the people pushing the project, Tillotson doesn't get the joke.

By the way, I'd like to add a little addendum here, as evidence of the sheer bald-faced chutzpah that public officials and local leaders have brought to the Trinity project. For years now, we have been told we need to tear down all of the major freeway bridges downtown and replace them with designer suspension bridges because the existing bridges are worn out.

Gail Thomas of the Dallas Institute, who has become Mayor Laura Miller's point person on the project, recently told The Dallas Morning News: "The I-30 bridge will need to be started shortly after construction on the Woodall Rodgers bridge because the Texas Department of Transportation is very eager to replace the I-30 bridge, which is very outdated. The same is true with I-35. TxDOT wants to complete those bridges."

The Morning News said in a recent editorial: "The clock is ticking down on the life span of the Trinity River bridges on Interstates 30 and 35. State transportation planners need to start designing replacement bridges soon, like yesterday."

In a recent story on the federal transportation bill, Morning News staff writer Emil Ramshaw described the city as being "just three weeks away from the bill's expiration date, and under pressure from the state Department of Transportation to replace a pair of aging Dallas bridges."

Not one word of that is true. I spent the last three weeks trying to get the Texas Department of Transportation to tell me where the downtown Dallas freeway bridges fall in their inventory of bridges needing replacement.

Finally last week, after I said I was going to do a story reporting that TxDOT was unable to produce its own documentation, a representative called me with the answer:

None of the downtown freeway bridges is slated by TxDOT for replacement. The I-30 bridge was recently rehabilitated and is rated in good shape. The I-35 bridges are nearing a point where they will need rehabilitation--not replacement--after which they will be in fine shape.

I asked several times to make sure I had it right. None of them is slated for replacement. The story that those bridges need to be replaced is a lie. It's a monumental lie, given the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money to replace them. I wonder if any of the people shuttling up to Washington lately pleading for federal money for those bridges has made the mistake of telling Congress that the existing bridges have to be replaced.

Because that is not true.

Let me ask you a question. If people will lie to you about a thing of that magnitude--tearing down all of the freeway bridges in downtown Dallas--what exactly can you trust them on? Flood control?

There's the underlying thing. Maybe you write off the bridges, because all they cost is hundreds of millions of dollars, and we're a silly ostentatious city that doesn't care about money.

But what about the people who die in floods? How dare the officials of Dallas push ahead with a "flood control" project that increases runoff, the primary cause of urban flooding, in a region where people die in swollen creeks every year? Exactly how pretty can designer bridges be?

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