Hunt for Truth

Council member Angela Hunt rips open the Trinity project

It takes a lot of guts. Hunt fortifies herself with the kind of back-breaking research that only a lawyer like herself can do. But it's still hard to stand up to the group that way.

If this were about politics and personal ambition, I don't think she would ever do this. The costs are too high. This is genuine concern verging on alarm over a fantastically stupid mistake that the city seems determined to make. These are really serious issues.

The park and lakes that voters thought they were voting for are just about gone, eaten alive by an expressway the city wants to build right inside the park area. Why do they want an expressway there? I could go on all day, but mainly it's because the business interests along Industrial Boulevard don't want to have it on their street.

Their guy is at every one of these meetings. His mission is to make sure the new "reliever route" for the downtown freeways doesn't come down Industrial.

We are sacrificing the river front, the one natural resource we thought we were saving, in order to protect beautiful Industrial Boulevard. Go figure. Industrial Boulevard has a lobbyist. The river has only you and me, and we're just voters.

Ever since New Orleans got wiped out by defective levees, the Corps of Engineers has been trying to tell Dallas that it cannot dig its freeway roadbed into the side of the mud levees that protect downtown. Now the Corps has told the city in no uncertain terms that it must move the design of the proposed expressway 70 feet away from the levees and deeper into the park area.

Oops. There goes more park. And that's just the latest mouthful. Hunt pointed out that two years ago we already lost 53 percent of the park to the toll road in an earlier "realignment." Now we're losing another 15 to 37 percent of what's left, depending on how you measure.

I happen to think things are much worse than the city lets on. City staff told the committee the toll road will be about 120 feet wide. I have reviewed engineer's renderings that show the road at a width of 500 feet in some places, with entrance and exit ramps that will completely cover one half of one of the lakes they're supposed to build.

The lake we're supposed to be able to sail on? My measurements of the latest available renderings show it at about 60 acres, plus or minus a few. White Rock Lake, for comparison, is more than 1,100 acres.

The really priceless response to Hunt's criticisms came from Craig Holcomb, a former city council member who is executive director of "Trinity Commons," a private lobby group pushing for the toll road. Holcomb, a member of the sparse audience that day, was incensed when Hunt brought up brochures and television spots before the bond election in 1998 that promised voters a big lake with sailboats.

"Some of the material showed sailboats," he conceded. "There may not be a sailboat. But that's the way it is."

It is? It is? Well, Mr. Holcomb, do you think maybe it's time to go back to the voters and tell them that's the way it is? No sailboats? A mud puddle? And a great big ripping, roaring freeway jammed right up against the bank of one lake and actually out over the middle of the other one? Do the voters really know that?

The last issue Hunt brought up may actually turn out to be the silver bullet that kills this thing. It's a bit much to explain here, but basically the Corps of Engineers has told the tollway authority it will retain the right to tear down sections of the highway in order to do future work on the levees. The tollway authority will be on the hook to fix the road afterward.

The tollway authority has to raise money from private investors. They're saying it's going to be hard to get people to invest if they have to say to them, "Every once in a while the Army Corps of Engineers may have to tear this sucker down, and then we'll have to pay to rebuild it."

The toll road and park issues are serious enough. But the thought that city council members would consciously grin and shuck us into the same shape New Orleans was in before Katrina is unbelievable.

In all this talk of pre-Katrina and post-Katrina, you know what we have that New Orleans did not? Angela Hunt.

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