By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's still dead: When the mayor urges people to buy flood insurance, we get a little worried. It means the report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Dallas' levees is really bad—so bad that the city council ponied up $29 million to find out what's wrong.
Mayor Tom Leppert, who has been aggressive in pushing timelines for the Trinity River toll road, said the levee study will cause a 20-month delay for the road's completion date. The North Texas Tollway Authority, which is expected to build and fund most of the project, stopped design work at 30 percent and rescinded a request to grab $55 million in funding from the Texas Department of Transportation.
Sherita Coffelt, an NTTA spokesperson, says "there is no way to know" how much the delay will add to the current $1.8 billion estimate for the road. "We don't even know if there is one at this point."
But we know delays cost money. As council member Ron Natinsky wrote on his Web site during 2007's campaign to halt the road's construction between the levees: "And if we don't VOTE NO and keep the project moving forward, the delay will cost $10 million per month or $120 million per year."
Whoopsie. Looks like another $240 million just got tacked on to a project estimated 11 years ago to cost $394 million.
The corps has long been expected to serve as executioner for plans to build the road inside the levees, but the NTTA is emerging as a serious contender, especially since its board of directors delayed a $35 million traffic study for the road as part of a plan to cut its budget by $108 million. (The agency is looking at raising tolls on its existing roads, even as the amount of traffic on the roads decreases.)
The traffic study determines how much funding the NTTA will contribute to the toll road, and an unfavorable traffic report would spell doom for the road.
With the NTTA reaching over and yanking the emergency brake on this sucker, the city must be evaluating a Plan B. Right...right? Well, not according to city manager Mary Suhm.
"Why would I go off in another direction when I don't even have an answer?"
The corps says the levees aren't safe, and the NTTA looks like it's gonna bail, that's why.
When one of the two inevitably breaks ups this ménage à trois, it'll be just like a flood pushing through the levees, and all the backers of this boondoggle are gonna get wet. To which Buzz echoes the mayor's advice: It's time to buy flood insurance.