Eye Candy

It's overpriced, it's gaudy and we have to put it on a credit card. Yep, that Calatrava bridge says Dallas all over.

Miller said the real value of the bridges is the part they will play in the grand scheme for the transformation of the Trinity River bottoms: "If we weren't doing the lakes and we weren't doing the wetlands, the trails and the islands, then the bridges are stupid because then we've just got pretty bridges over a ditch with power lines along it."

Yeah, but we're not doing most of that other stuff.

Why? No money.

Council member Ed Oakley says we need an icon.
Council member Ed Oakley says we need an icon.
Michael Morris of NCTCOG is the man with the moolah.
Michael Morris of NCTCOG is the man with the moolah.

I know, we were told we were going to do all of those things when we voted for the $246 million Trinity River bond issue in 1998. It's what we saw in the TV ads--sailboats on a lake, families on nature trails.

But since then most of those things have been gutted because of the enormous growth in the amount of money to be spent on the bridges and on a freeway that wasn't even in the bond package we voted for. The city's own table showing what will and will not be paid for from the 1998 bond issue is sad reading for people who thought they were getting a park. I urge you to go look at it online at TrinityRiverCorridor.org under "implementation costs."

"Stormwater wetlands," it says. "None."

No money. Money's gone. The list goes on:

"Headwaters wetlands. None. Boardwalks for nature observation. Not included. Natural lake amenities. None. Whitewater rafting course. None. Park access roads. None. Active recreation terraces (two). None. Amphitheatre. None..."

I can't read it all. It's too grim. All the stuff I voted for: None. Tell me something. Why would you put "recreation terraces (two)" on the list if the number you're actually going to build is none? Are they just trying to break my heart? Why not have, "Big Rock Candy Mountain with lemonade springs where the bluebird sings--NONE!"

I didn't vote for the bridges. Or the freeway. Neither did you. Nobody did. We voted for the sailboats on the lake. NONE!

The list is staggering--things we voted for that now are not paid for, because the money has been shifted to the road and bridge items that we did not vote for.

In 2001, the city argued in court that it was not bound by any of its promises in advertisements or by official city pamphlets describing the river project. The city said it was bound only by the very broad language that appeared on the ballot itself in the bond election, which basically allowed it to shift the money in any way it wished. The city won that case.

The reality now is that the first Calatrava bridge is going to get paid for one way or the other, unless somebody comes along and forces a new election to de-authorize the entire Trinity River project. About a month ago I saw something that showed me just how far local officials will go to get it paid for--a dicey chapter that was not reported in the pages of the city's daily newspaper.

This is a nasty little detail way down deep in the bowels of regional government, in the dark inner reaches of technocratic politics where public eyes almost never intrude. By the way, that's why technocrats love regional government. They're the only ones who even know where the meetings are held, let alone when.

Thank goodness for little birdies.

A while back, a little birdie called and told me to take a look at the agenda for a body called the "Regional Transportation Council" of the North Central Texas Council of Governments for its July 13 meeting at the Six Flags La Quinta Inn & Suites in Arlington. So maybe you're like me, and you figure, "How much can happen at a La Quinta?"

Plenty. The city of Dallas had been saying it could actually pony up more than the $57 million for the first Calatrava bridge--more like $65 million, although it was unclear where the extra $8 million was coming from. But even if they had 65 big ones, that still left $48 million Dallas would have to find in order to take the lowest construction bid of $113 million.

Well, there it was on the agenda of the Regional Congress of Whatever: "Action: Approve $48 million of additional Category 2 funds from the City of Dallas I.H. 30 Canyon/Mixmaster project to Woodall Rodgers Extension."

Translation: Gob onto $48 million in road money that was slated to help fix the worst traffic mess in North Texas, the so-called Mixmaster where Interstate 30 and Interstate 35 collide in downtown Dallas, and stick the money instead on the bridge to Ray's Sporting Goods.

A completely flabbergasting idea! We poor schlub motorist/taxpayers have been told for decades that the single most important transportation project in our city is fixing that Third World bump-'em-cars carnival-ride-in-hell joke of a freeway intersection downtown. So now somebody's ready to quietly filch $48 million out of it to pay for an icon? A new icon, by the way, since Councilman Oakley told me we already have the ball-on-the-tower thing. I guess that's a used icon.

First I had to find out exactly what the Regional Transportation Council was and how it could do a thing like that. Bill Hale, the regional state highway director, explained to me that the RTC is a regional body with the power under state and federal law to divvy up highway money between projects, even when the roads in question belong to the state.
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