Put Out

If Dallas doesn't give the boys their road, they want the jewelry back

"The Trinity River project is looked at as a whole, and while there may be funding that is earmarked for particular places that then is itemized, we have sold the project as an entire piece to the appropriators."

I allowed as how I did not believe this to be the case. I didn't want to get all heavy and start hitting her with the very high grade I received in my high school civics class, almost an A if memory serves, but I did tell her I believed strongly that the appropriations process is a little more careful than that.

You know, like as least as good as my checkbook. I don't write in the ledger, "About four hundred bucks, stuff I did in Chicago." They don't appropriate $1.2 billion as "that Dallas river thing."

Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans are central to the debate on the Trinity River toll road.
Charlie Varley/Sipa Press/NEWSCOM
Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans are central to the debate on the Trinity River toll road.

I tried to pin her down: "Are we talking about the flood control element? Is it WRDA money? Water resources?"

"Right," she said.

Later I asked: "There is no distinction between the flood control money and the transportation money?"

And here finally she paused, making me believe Ms. Davis may have been searching back through her own memory of high school civics class. "There is," she said at last. "I can get you specifically like how it's broken down if you want me to."

I said that was exactly what I had been hoping for all along. That was a week ago. I have tried to reach her by voice and e-mail to remind her of her promise. Radio silence. Nothing. Not a word. Sessions' staff still has never agreed to explain what federal money he was talking about.

But that's not my worst case. My worst case last week was our new mayor, Tom Leppert. I called him to ask him these same questions. He gave me a more precise argument than Sessions' staff had offered. But when I tried to ask follow-up questions, Leppert asked me to e-mail those to him. He promised to give me specific answers in time for my deadline.

Later I had a detailed conversation with Becky Mayad, his spokeswoman, in which I explained what my deadlines were and offered to stretch them out through a holiday weekend to give him as much time as possible to get back to me.

I asked him to respond, if possible, to the following points: Leppert continues to assert that the North Texas Tollway Authority is going to "dig our lakes for us" in the project but that the agreement to do so would disappear if there were no toll road between the levees.

But there is no such agreement. There is no contract. No one even knows if the NTTA would be able to use excavated river silt to build a flood-proof platform for the road.

He continues to assert that putting the toll road on Industrial Boulevard would cost much more than putting it between the levees. But no one knows what it will cost to build it between the levees.

The original assumption was that the toll road could be built on the sides of the levees. Six months ago the Corps of Engineers changed its mind and told the city the road will have to be built away from the levees with its own private levee and flood wall system and that it will have to be designed in a way that does not block water from getting through the floodway.

He never answered me. He never followed through on his agreement. Maybe I unwittingly gave him an out. I said in my e-mail, "If there are points you can offer in response, I promise that I will reflect them fairly in anything I write."

I guess maybe there weren't any points he could offer.

Look. I think right now we all have those terrible sounds in our minds—the sucking roar of the towers sinking to their knees, the cries of old people drowning in their wheelchairs. But somewhere in that discordant wail we must hear the cold, strong voice of personal responsibility.

We have an obligation to think these things through. We need to listen closely to what people say. If we don't understand, we must ask them to say it again.

That's an aspect of this upcoming election that is more important than the outcome. Sooner or later, somebody is going to have to tell the truth and spell it out. Then and only then can we vote with a clear conscience.

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