First Things Last

This is all about priorities. Isn't it?

Last week when bids were announced for the first "signature" bridge over the Trinity River, the reaction at City Hall was understandably distraught. City leaders had hoped to erect three suspension bridges over the Trinity designed by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. But the lowest bid for the first one was twice the amount the city had been able to raise.

The Woodall Rodgers Bridge came in at a low bid of $113 million. By scraping together bond money, state and federal funds and private donations, the city had been able to come up with $57 million. But arts mavens and bridge boosters vowed last week that the bridges must be built.

The Woodall Rodgers bridge will carry the Woodall Rodgers Freeway over the river into a bleak area of West Dallas occupied by fix-it shops and abandoned early 20th century warehouses. The Dallas Observer has reported in the past that the two existing freeway bridges over the Trinity that the Calatrava boosters want to tear down and replace are not considered in need of replacement by state or federal highway authorities ("Dear Congress," November 4, 2004).

The entire purpose served by the three signature bridges, then, will be the aesthetic statement that boosters believe they will make for the city. Based on the recent bids, it's reasonable to assume the full project would cost about $400 million. In order to put this amount in context, the Observer looked at the city's $7 billion "needs list"--projects that need to be done now but are not funded.

The full cost of the Calatrava project, including all three bridges, would be four times the amount needed, according to the needs list, to repair and replace every broken sewer in the city ($103.6 million).

It would be more than one and a half times the amount needed to resurface every street that needs it in Dallas ($237 million) or to repair all of the 998 outdated alleys in the city ($239 million). It would be almost two and a half times the amount needed ($164 million) to bring every library in Dallas up to snuff. It's more than enough to carry out every single needed storm drainage project in the city ($393 million).

If one looks merely at the difference between the amount budgeted for the Woodall bridge and the amount of the lowest bid--a difference of $56 million--it's possible to find other striking possibilities. For example, the mere difference in the bid is two and a half times the amount the city will spend this year to hire more cops and bring down response times ($23 million), this being the city with the highest crime rate of any major city in America.

There are 21 fire stations in Dallas with roofs that need replacement or repair. The extra money for the first Calatrava bridge is 17 times the amount ($3.3 million) needed to keep a roof over the heads of Dallas firefighters.

 
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