Last week The Dallas Morning News brought some very sobering news to its readers. It seems the cost of the bridge that isn't opening this weekend has skyrocketed from $117 million to $182 million. Oh, my gosh. Skyrocketed! But the News left out a sort of important detail. The original cost of the bridge was supposed to be only $57 million, not $117 million.

The Margaret Hunt Hill is the only one of the seven originally planned make-believe suspension bridges that is not a replacement. It goes where no bridge has gone before. Critics argue that's because no one wanted to go there, but let's not go back into that. It's a new bridge. Maybe the other six will never be built. We can only hope.

At the time this one — the one that isn't opening this weekend — was first being bandied about, state highway officials told the Observer that a regular old "plain vanilla" highway bridge (Who knew they had flavors?) would cost about $40 million. Not too far down the road, city officials began announcing what seemed like sumptuous private donations, including $12 million from Hunt petroleum in exchange for naming rights.

So let's assume we put in $28 million (our budgeted contribution), and we get $12 million or so from the state and federal governments, plus $12 million from the Hunts to name it for their grandma. The bridge only costs $57 million, we're told. Plus we're going to get rich from it anyway. So, you know, man, we need to be high rollers and just do this thing.

The big slap-the-spit-out-our-mouths moment came in 2006 when the bids to build it came in. The low bid, from Williams Bros. Construction of Houston, was $113 million. As our governor might say ...

Oops.

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm, a librarian by training, assured the public she had jaw-boned Mr. Calatrava into making several very significant engineering changes in the bridge to cut costs, including replacing steel decks with concrete decks, welded joints with bolts and expensive American steel throughout with a great buy on steel someone had found at a mill in Italy, plus generally squeezing down the fake suspension part to a smaller arch.

No one has ever suggested that these changes had anything to do with the ultimate appearance of the bridge now — sort of a slightly larger than normal McDonald's arch made of PVC. No one seems to be worried about the bolts or the cheaper steel. Probably everything will be fine with that. Maybe you don't want to slam on your brakes real hard in the middle of the bridge. Just use normal caution.

The scary thing, anyway, was the sand.

In 2009 they started drilling huge holes in the river bottom to sink the piers that would actually carry the weight of the bridge. If it were a real suspension bridge — even if you want to call it "cable-stayed bridge," whatever — it wouldn't need all those piers, which would be the point of building a suspension bridge in the first place, but ...

Lyle Lovett, right here in Dallas! If you start to feel your mind becoming disturbed in any way, think about Lyle Lovett. We're almost done here.

So they're out there in the river with a big drilling rig, boring a hole for a bunch of concrete to make a pier, and all of a sudden the whole drilling rig goes whomper-jawed and starts tilting around like a carnival ride.

This was another case where the city didn't want the Observer to see the official report. The Morning News, of course, never asked. Finally we got our hands on it, and it said the following:

"During the drilling of piers for Bent 6 (located 300' from the wet side toe of the west levee), the contractor reported that large quantities of sand in the formation liquefied even though slurry was being used to hold the excavation open."

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.

Later in the report, the contractor reports sticking a huge pipe or cofferdam into the hole to hold the liquid sand out. Then they couldn't get the pipe out. So they just left it in there.

It's fine. No one has ever suggested in any way, shape or form that this bridge is going to fall down, certainly not during the Lyle Lovett concert, which is the main thing.

The tickets, by the way, are $200 at the cheap end, up to $100,000 if you want to be a "signature sponsor." The Park Cities ladies have offered to allow signature sponsors to put something with their names on it in the "favor bag" for the party.

Favor bag. Kind of gives you a flavor, doesn't it?

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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.

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.

Travis Rex
Travis Rex

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

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.

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.

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*

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

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!

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.

Chik-fil-A
Chik-fil-A

No, just greedheads who enjoy scamming sheeple like you.

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.

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.

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.

JimS
JimS

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

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??

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.

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.

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

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.

 
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