By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Leppert urged the crowd of more than 300 to say "no" to wasting a billion dollars that would go to construction costs for the road. And where was this billion coming from? "It's coming from the North Texas Tollway [Authority]," he said.
So there was nothing to worry about, Leppert assured them; the funding for the $1.3 billion road project was already in place. With $1 billion from the NTTA, approximately $200 million in state and local funding and the city's $84 million contribution approved by voters in 1998, taxpayers won't be on the hook for any more money.
The mayor claimed there were no alternatives for the toll road if the inside-the-levees option wasn't approved. "It's a black hole where we dump a billion dollars," he said.
But according to an October 2007 article on Dallas Blog, the only commitment made by the NTTA was a $140 to $150 million estimate contained in its 1999 agreement with the city. In response to the online publication's questions regarding the NTTA's ability to finance the toll road, the authority issued this response. "No decision on the funding of the Trinity Parkway has been made."
Because a high-speed toll road would have piers that would penetrate the levees, the anti-road group claimed it would compromise the integrity of those levees. In the debate, Greyson asked Leppert why the city had requested waivers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, citing a February 2007 council committee briefing by city staff where they claimed the NTTA hoped to get a waiver or exception from the corps. The corps shares responsibility with the city for its floodway and levees.
Leppert denied that requests for waivers from the corps were made, stressing that the city had done nothing to weaken the levees. "The corps has signed off on the safety issues," he said. "They've signed off on the environmental issues. They feel very comfortable with it. They're the experts. Don't take our word for it."
But the corps hadn't "signed off" on anything. Gene Rice, the corps' project manager for the Trinity Corridor, told KERA shortly before the vote that the corps hadn't approved the road because there was no final design.
"We've made no determination at this time on whether the project will be acceptable or not," Rice said. "We are still working with the transportation interests to try to make sure it could go in safely, if it goes in."
Numerous briefings to the council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee support Rice's statements, disclosing that the corps will issue its approval or disapproval of the road only after the completion of its final design, which began in early 2009 and is scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2010.
Hunt now says that she didn't attack Leppert's statements during the debate because they were phrased as though his knowledge came from personal conversations he had with the NTTA and the corps. "When you have a mayor saying that—a mayor that comes across as trustworthy, sincere and believable—of course you're going to believe them and trust them," she says. "But when the facts were revealed, there was no doubt he was lying. He made it up to win."
Mari Woodlief, president of AllynPartners, which teamed up with Reed as consultants on Leppert's mayoral campaign, the toll road campaign and now the hotel campaign, sent out a mailer that said, "Don't let Angela Hunt send more than $1 billion down the river..."
Asked if the mailer was misleading because the NTTA hadn't actually committed to any funding, she maintains that everything her company said in the campaign was "100 percent correct" and says the mailer never "spelled out" where the money was coming from. Regarding Leppert's statements, Woodlief says, "I don't think the mayor was ever untruthful about anything."
Whether voters felt deceived or not, they defeated the anti-toll road campaign by a margin of 53-47 on November 6, 2007. But what has been hailed as a great political victory for the mayor has in recent months come under fire, after the corps released its study about the structural integrity of the Trinity River levees, which it found unacceptable.
The most damaging blow came from the Morning News when it published a March 25 editorial titled "Leppert didn't level with voters in Trinity campaign" and said he "glossed over" key issues that could drive up the cost of the road or force the city to find a new location for it.
"The degree of certainty he projected during the 2007 campaign is troubling, given the very uncertain prospects the corps outlined behind closed doors," the editorial board wrote. "By obscuring important issues, the mayor just punted potential problems down the road. And he undermined the public trust."
Carol Reed claims the editorial was factually wrong, and Leppert didn't mislead voters. "And I don't think that he has said anything that he was not told."
But clearly the damage was done. The Morning News, which was so enamored of the mayor that it would assign a reporter to follow him to China in his attempt to promote economic ties, began to question his integrity, overshadowing the solid success he had achieved with so much of his political agenda.