Just Pretend the Calatrava Bridge Really Is Opening, Sit Back and Listen to Lyle.

Last Sunday The Dallas Morning News published a special section designed as a program/brochure for all the parties planned next weekend, anchored by a Lyle Lovett concert, to celebrate the opening of the city's new Santiago Calatrava bridge over the Trinity River.

But the bridge won't open Friday. It isn't done being built. You could drive off the side and get killed. So the Dallas Police Department has refused to allow traffic on it, in spite of the Morning News special section and Lyle Lovett.

Is it wrong to laugh? Yes. Is it mean? Yes. Do we laugh? Of course. The whole thing — all the hoopla and the Morning News and the pretentiousness, all for a bridge opening as if it were the end of World War II — and then the bridge isn't even open.

Maybe it wouldn't be so funny if it didn't remind us of the last great Trinity River project opening, for the so-called Dallas Wave. That was only last May.

The Dallas Wave was another fantabulous Barnum & Bailey feature of the Trinity River project. Opening parties were held, news conferences called, photo ops provided with couture-wearing Park Cities ladies in high heels on plywood at a fly-blown mud flat just below downtown.

The object of all that celebration was a bleak concrete dam set down in the turbid brown waters of the Trinity supposedly to re-create a whitewater kayaking feature one of the couture ladies had seen somewhere in Colorado. At a cost of $4 million in tax dollars, the Dallas Wave was an effort to persuade the public that the Trinity River project really was all for them — and don't look behind that curtain at the $2 billion toll road their men-folk want to build on top of the river to promote the redevelopment of the old Stemmons industrial corridor.

The party face of the Trinity River project has always been the domain of The Trinity Trust, a group of Park Cities ladies, their architects and decorators, and in the true spirit of the Park Cities the big thing for them has always been ... the partaay!

Poor design, bad construction, a screwball idea in the first place: Nobody quite knows yet why The Wave came out so poorly, but the city banned boats from it almost immediately after experienced paddlers began reporting that it was capable of killing whole families in canoes. Nary spade nor jackhammer has touched it since.

This is not to say the city won't open the Calatrava bridge some day. The state highway department has said they will have it fixed so people won't drive off the side by the end of March.

And in the meantime, who really cares? When it does open the bridge will carry a dozen or so cars a day across the river to an industrial area best described as a burnt-over hellscape. No pedestrian traffic will be allowed on the new bridge, probably to discourage refugees.

In fact, only as bread and circuses could something like the "signature bridge" plan make any sense in the first place. Why else would a major American city even consider knocking down a half dozen or more perfectly good bridges to replace them with faux suspension bridges? That sounds more like the plot for a dystopian science-fiction novel about mass psychosis.

But we have to remember how the project was first broached to us. In 1999 when the idea of replacing six existing bridges and building an additional one first came up, Dallas lawyer David Laney, a pal of Morning News Publisher Robert Decherd and at that time chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, suggested broadly that the state would probably pick up most of the costs.

And not too much later, the Dallas City Council was presented with a briefing saying the first bridge, the one that isn't opening this weekend, would be free. No, better than free! Armed with a report from some post-office-box outfit called Insight Research, city staff told the council a huge office building would be built next to the new bridge — only if it was a Calatrava! — and pay so much in taxes that the city would make a profit on the bridge.

Wow. How could you turn that down?

The Observer demanded to see the report under the Texas Public Information Act. The city refused. The Observer appealed the city's decision to the Texas attorney general. Eventually we went the old-fashioned route and had somebody slip it to us out the back door.

Guess who the developer was who was going to build the big office tower that would turn the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge into a profit center? The city!

Two things about that. No, make that three things. One, the city can't commit to building a huge new office tower without some kind of a vote. Two, the city doesn't pay taxes to itself. Three, now that the bridge is almost done, have you seen any signs of a big office tower going in?

Lyle Lovett, folks! Think of it that way! Lyle Lovett is going to be here.

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43 comments
Becca10000
Becca10000

Just for some clarification, not that it will matter to this crowd. The cost did not suddenly "skyrocket". In the $182 million are right of way costs (about $50 million), design costs and TxDOT project management fees. If you take all that out, you get the bid values of $50 million for the approaches and the $69.7 million for the levee to levee span. Also, regarding the sand issue above, the columns are drilled down into the bedrock, which is about 40 ft. below ground, so they are not being supported by sand at all. One more thing about steel bridges, they tend to last 2-3 times longer than conventional concrete bridges. The current IH-30 and IH-35E bridges are only 50 years old, and are badly in need of replacement. TxDOT has been spending lots on maintenance just to keep them safe for many years. They are now going to replace them.

trudat
trudat

...bring out some blood hounds so that people can find the money trail...It's bound to take us to some high level crooks..

GAA
GAA

Jim Shutze. You so funny. (tear)

Calahatchie Bridge
Calahatchie Bridge

I wonder if they have soda blasted the grafitti of the 35 exit/entry ramps by Continental. Calatrava Grafitti...the pure whiteness of the bridge itself will make a lovely canvas for all the taggers in the city.

Donna Harris
Donna Harris

My grandfather moved from Pearl Street in the 1940's after mother graduated Crozier Tech and built homes in La Bajada, where he lived until he died at 101. Momma thought he was crazy and didn't want to move there!

It didn't matter, he bought the properties because he wanted then, what everybody else wants today, ocean front property. My grandparents didn't have much but wanted to build something and be part of an independent community. Incidentally they helped found St. Mary's Church and School. He did this knowing their dreams were really about the future of their grandchildren and great grandchildren because as grandpa once said, you win wars for the future, not today!

I will be on the bridge tonight facing West toasting Grandpa for his farsighted vision for all of our futures.

Gailalong
Gailalong

I agree that, driving through downtown, the appearance of the bridge is disappointing. It looks like a mid-sized arched pipe. It seems less than impressive to me. I was surprised yesterday at the beauty shop, when all the employees, several from Oak Cliff, were very excited about the bridge and thought it looked wonderful. I listened in surprise. They were talking as if it is the greatest thing ever. I have no idea why they are so enthusiastic about this bridge. Maybe I have to look at it from closer up; I have only seen it in the distance. If so many citizens think it is fabulous, could we be missing something? Could it be that people from that part of the city see it as a city-wide acknowledgement of their validity? Just a thought...

dallaschas
dallaschas

The DMN recently explained that the HUGE cost overrun was for right of ways needed for the ramps onto the bridge that were acquired from Dallas County. Did anyone miss the irony that with regional mobility a shared goal of the City of Dallas and Dallas County, that the County Commissioners screwed the Dallas taxpayers for tens of millions of dollars so the bridge could have entrance and exit ramps. Why wouldn't ROW's be given free to public roads? Where did all the money go?

guest
guest

What is it that is architecturally appealing to eye about this bridge with a partially blocked view of the jail. In defense of the jail, it blends in better with the landscape. All I see is a white arch with cables hanging from it. I'm just as conscientious of our appearance to visitors as former Mayor Leper, but now even more so.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

In the DMN they had a FD issue that shows "other" bridges that look just like this one. Not unique—the city paid good money for a copy.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

"Translation: They've bored into a stratum of liquid sand that's shooting into their bore hole so fast they can't stabilize it even by pouring in a concrete-like slurry compound"

Sounds like the cement job Halliburton did on the BP Oil Rig the Deep Water Horizon.

Oh well its nothing that more taxes will not solve. And to think that our betters in Washington have been enabling this crap.

cynical old bastard
cynical old bastard

"The Margaret Hunt Hill is the only one of the seven originally planned make-believe suspension bridges that is not a replacement."

I'm confused, Jim. What is the old bridge next to the MHH Bridge? The bridge that used to carry traffic over the Trinity that the MHH bridge will replace? The new bridge will have a connector from Woodall Rogers but still spans the same streets as the old bridge, amended for the rest of the new construction.

Aluminum
Aluminum

haha. The bridge is a big compromise between those people who have been in favor of the bridge and those against it. They met somewhere between a bridge and not a bridge.

anil6057
anil6057

I live in a city full of pessimists

Travis Rex
Travis Rex

Jim..Lyle Lovett will be here, but he isn't for the great unwashed. He's for the $200 ticket crowd. One is quite sure you won't find too many West Dallas residents noshing on canapes and sipping wine whilst dancing a jig to "The Front Porch Song" this evening.

S Wyatt
S Wyatt

I wanted the writer to comment on those ridiculous flags on either end of the bridge. Why do we have to put up GIANT TX & US flags? What is this, Six Flags? Those flags take away from the aesthetic beauty of the bridge itself. What once looked graceful and beautiful is now a ridiculous show of faux patriotism.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

Jim, I agree with you 100% on the foolishness of this project. It's ill-considered, badly-implemented, and terribly administered.

But please, please, please stop calling it a "fake suspension bridge" or "faux-suspension bridge" and other sorts of things. It's a center-span cable-stayed bridge with a harp cable layout. The design is a legitimate one, used when a cantilever bridge would be too heavy and a suspension bridge would be prohibited by economies of scale. We might not like its aesthetics, or its purpose, or the actual need for it, but it is a valid engineering project.

Yes, I think it's unnecessary. A viaduct or a causeway would be a better choice based on the flow patterns of the floodway and the distance involved. It doesn't need to be there and it's overly ornate. However, trying to create a negative impression by calling it names just detracts from the real problems that the bridge and its proponents have.

mrushing02
mrushing02

What a ridiculous waste of our money. Government wastes money better than anything or anyone else.

Storm_71
Storm_71

Please open I desperately need a link from the bail bonds places to the beer stores.

Bigdsenorita
Bigdsenorita

What really chaps the hell out of me is that the far better solution Jim Schutze brought forward a few years back never got implemented. Oh wait...what??

Replay
Replay

What a tremendous waste of resources. All the taxpayer received was deception and lies.

Tex
Tex

Our own "bridge to nowhere" that will make it easier to drive to Ray's Gun Shop, or buy some flipped real estate from the guy who bought up all the property over there and painted it purple, pink and green.More "welfare for millionaires" in the guise of "development." Why does no one scream about all the handouts that the real estate industry gets in this town? Can't the real estate crowd ever build something without a taxpayer subsidy?Didn't they get a tax abatement for Victory Park?Let me know.

KurtW.
KurtW.

That's touching, thanks Donna. I would be interested in seeing a map showing what percentage of property in that area is owned by individuals such as your grandfather, compared with that now owned by giant real estate speculators and tycoons.

Becca10000
Becca10000

The bridge next to MHH is Continental. It will be transformed into a pedestrian/bike bridge with landscaping, park amenities, etc. It is being paid for by an $8 million private donation. The MHH Bridge not only connects to Woodall, it will also connect to Riverfront, and IH-35. Continental only connected to Riverfront.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

That is of course the advantage of being a pessimist; a pessimist gets nothing but pleasent suprises, an optimist nothing but unpleasantFictional detective Nero Wolfe in Fer-deLance (1934) by Rex Stout

Mikeedu
Mikeedu

Do we live in the same city? The Dallas Morning News just published an 8-page section specifically dedicated to cheerleading for this 13-years-in-the-making disaster. The developers, architects, patron, etc.--all with vested interests, of course--have glowing praise for this clumsy, half-baked design, which anyway is automatically a flagrant urban planning FAILURE because there is no way for people to walk or bicycle across it!

Chik-fil-A
Chik-fil-A

No, just greedheads who enjoy scamming sheeple like you.

JimS
JimS

Your argument is technically correct, but this is public architecture, and public perceptions are not technical. I don't believe engineering of a public structure can be utterly divorced from function. If you tell people you are building them a supension bridge or a cable stayed bridge, you are telling them that the bridge is built that way to suit a purpose or function. You are building it in a place where a causeway would have been inappropriate. This bridge is a lie, because it's design is a lie. It isn''t needed or even appropriate for the use to which it is being put. The lie is social, political and esthetic all at the same time. That's a pretty fat lie. The bridge is a make-believe or fake suspension bridge because it exists only as a reference to other places, like moving London Bridge to Lake Havasu. That's maybe permissible for a tourist attraction, but as something purporting to serve a public purpose it's a fraud and a fake. And you know what's worse? It's vulgar.

Bob
Bob

He has never stated his opposition to a bridge. He has stated his opposition to a $182M bridge. You know, excess spending of tax dollars on unnecessary materials, design and consultants.

trudat
trudat

...which brings me to my question; Who are the folks who stand to make "up front" and immediate money from this deal...where does the money trail lead?...who had their hands deepest in the cookie jar first and whose hand is coming out with the most cookies?...

Sam
Sam

Better a bridge to WEST DALLAS and OAK CLIFF than roads to the real nowhere of Collin County.

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

The correct name is Ray's Hardware and Sporting Goods. I love me some Ray's!

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

The answer to this, and every other "how does such stupid shit happen in Dallas?!?!?!?!" question is answered by 2 numbers and a hyphen.

14-1

Travis Rex
Travis Rex

oh there were large "real estate" cough slum lords in West Dallas....the Wheeler family comes to mind...

For Sigh
For Sigh

So the MHH is not safe for pedestrians or would attract too many "refugees" as the article describes, but we're turning Continental into a HUGE park. Yeah I don't see any problems with refugees from that transition. *rolls eyes*

HenriToer
HenriToer

Word on the street is that this bridge must have been hit with the ugly stick--and hard. Perhaps this is the reason we are physically prohibited from seeing it up close.

Donna Harris
Donna Harris

Although my grandparents dreams might have been delayed because of politics, social circumstances and every "...ism" under the sun, my grandfathers dreams of West Dallas growing up someday were not a lie Jim. When you say that, you invalidate his entire life. Like the bridge, he was ahead of his time but in the grand scheme of things, who cares? In another 70 years, the bridge will most likely be in scale to what grows up around it.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

I'm a firm believer in function before form. I don't care what something looks like, as long as it works. That said though, building something that functions, and yet is inappropriate for its setting or need, is just as bad. The manner in which the bridge was designed, funded, and constructed was shockingly wasteful and deeply flawed. It is art disguised as a public works project and forced upon the city as an exercise in power.

All of which is an attempt to say that I agree with you. However, the little engineer's voice in my head that screams at me at inappropriate times just doesn't like misplaced use of terms. I apologize. Sometimes I let that guy get control of the typing fingers.

A further point that probably should be made is that engineers have just as much to do with this failure of design as do the involved politicians. No civil engineer should have signed off on this, especially when the cost-cutting arrived.

trudat
trudat

...not quite true; these types of money making schemes (bait and switch or pump and dump - or baitswitchpumpdump, etc.) have always taken place at odd times in the world and especially Dallas...

Bob
Bob

Almost right. Also caused by media and certain consulting organizations.

JimS
JimS

I need to come up with a better way of saying what I mean.

 
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