By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Three things. The Trinity River toll road doesn't have to happen. But it can happen. And stopping it will take money.
Those are the three big practicalities looming over the debate about building a big highway through what was supposed to be our downtown urban park perched against the Trinity River.
Practically speaking, and in spite of the mayor's strong endorsement last week, this terrible idea — essentially ruining the city's only major geographic feature for a highway to nowhere — can be defeated. If the issue went back to the voters again now as it did in 2007, the road would lose.
But a second practical matter is this: The dearly held belief of many road opponents that the thing can't be built because the money isn't there is a false hope. If the concept stays on the boards and the political endorsements continue to flow in, the money will be found.
It will be found because the mechanisms of so-called regionalism have effectively subverted local control of local money. The money will come from an entity most people have never heard of, called the North Central Texas Council of Governments, an arcane and lofty so-called planning agency where the long-game elite divvies up billions in tax dollars like Brinks robbers with a bag of boodle.
The road would lose at the polls now because this time around, it would be up against a clearly superior alternative. The stated purpose of the proposed Trinity River toll road, Mayor Mike Rawlings made clear last week last week, is gridlock relief. But given greater competition for money this time around, there will be a better alternative staring us all in the face — the elephant in the room, in fact.
We can fix the freeways we have. It's cheaper, maybe half the cost. It will deliver way more bang for the buck in reducing gridlock. And why would we even think about building a new road, sucking even more cars into the center city, when we could save money, reduce more gridlock and help protect downtown from even worse pollution problems in the future by fixing the roads we have?
In his endorsement speech last week, the mayor talked his way all around the block to avoid this topic. But as soon as he walked away from the podium at City Hall, the TV cameras in the room all flew to the road opponents, who pointed right straight at the elephant.
Back in 2007, it was called "Project Pegasus," and everybody thought it was a done deal. The federal and state governments were going to come into Dallas with 18-wheeler loads of cash and rebuild the freeway exchanges in downtown. Now the deal is half undone.
Wait. Think about it. You drive through downtown on the freeway once in a while, right? What's wrong? It's the mental process. There are several places where fat freeways pour into skinny bridges, bridges dump you out into full-speed traffic with almost no entry lane, the signs are all crazy or stupid or both, and before you get through with it you're crazy, too.
"Oh, damn, is it I-35 (North) South I want or I-30 West? Oh, damn, to get on I-30 West do I get on I-35 (South) North or I-45 (North) South to Woodall Rodgers Southwest by Northeast all-around-the-merry-go-round I think I'm having a meltdown now? Is it the middle lane? Oh, damn, is that 18-wheeler chicken truck really going to cut across three lanes and turn over on top of me? Oh, damn, yes it is!"
Project Pegasus was designed to come in, remap and rethink all of it, then rebuild it for smooth traffic flow. It is the real fix for downtown.
But the money ran out. Now only half of Pegasus is being done, and the city is shopping for the billion dollars it would take to complete it. But listen to that again. A billion dollars would complete Pegasus. The cost of the Trinity River toll road is now floating somewhere between $1.4 and $1.8 billion.
Nobody even tries to argue the toll road could come close to a completed Pegasus for gridlock relief. The toll road is an add-on and an afterthought dreamed up by landowners along the river. In 2007 it was even sold to voters as a detour during construction on Pegasus. So now we're going to build the detour but not the main project it's supposed to detour around?
Insane, right? Depends on who you are. At last week's mayoral press conference, City Council member Dwaine Caraway committed a splendid gaffe — the kind of thing I love him for — and provided another window into the origins of the toll road idea, not that we don't have enough of those.
Caraway said he and his wife, state legislator and now congressional hopeful Barbara Mallory Caraway, first learned of the toll road idea in 1991, during a visit to the offices of the late Louis A. Beecherl Jr. (I wrote last week about his son, Louis Beecherl III, who is shotgunning a big for-profit eminent domain project for Parkland Hospital.)
Beecherl Jr. was head of the Trinity River Improvement Association, the traditional lobbying arm of the old Stemmons Industrial Corridor land gang. That's who wants the toll road — the land gang. They cherish the hopelessly antique mid-century notion that building a new highway through their land downtown will allow them to redevelop it as an urban mixed-use Hanging Gardens of Babylon. They absolutely do not get, and will never get, and cannot get what makes cities work today. What works today is development woven into the whole fabric of the city, not cut off by highways, walls and cul de sacs. These people don't get that. They don't get anything urban, and they never will.
Where is the NCTOG going to get money no one else has? They only distribute money that some one else has. The state is not going to give them money for it and neither are the Feds. Conceivably they could ask their jurisdictions to create bonds, but that is not happening. You will have to find another boogeyman.
That is the beauty of the current financial situation. So many good things get cut that no bureaucrat in her right mind would spend huge dollars on something that simply reeks. Those education cuts serve a great purpose that way.
Have you heard of the new bridge?
That bridge relied on a large donation from a wealthy person (whose name escapes me), given way back before the Great Recession. Even if they had money to burn it seems unlikely that anyone would want their name attached to some swampy toll road.
On May 16th at the City Council meeting, everyone is invited to attend and talk to Citizen/Mayor Mike about the shale gas drilling that is being proposed for the Trinity River floodplain and parkland. Mike and the council need to talk about it A LOT, drilling, parks/rec, and toll road? Which is it? What will be the legacy?
Last week those who stood with the Mayor for pictures, cast their legacy vote on the toll road.Next week, the process begins as to what they want to do about drilling in the floodplain, next to the toll road, and adjacent to your home. When the time comes to cast that legacy vote, we are going to make sure that it is cast in bronze and put up for the world to see, decades to come.
Then we will see if Dallas has truly lost it's soul.
It may be tilting at windmills at this point, but there is still time (until May 18) to send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org in support of Alternative 1, the No-Build Alternative, to be included in the public record that will be sent to the Federal Highway Administration.
Well, that seals it, Schutze, your grieving phase is complete.
Jim, "So where's the shootout? Nowhere. There is no shootout. This stuff gets done at obscure board meetings in Arlington that never even draw media coverage, let alone public attendance."
Same problem with all these issues, large/small. Bridges. Hotels. Parking at the Dallas Arboretum. Parking garages paid for with HUD housing dollars. Hundreds of million$ in highway, Parks, Housing, Economic Development, HUD, bond, water, TIF dollars spread all around council districts north/south, constituencies powerful/prominent, broke/obscure, businesses/charities. All about constiuent relations and palm greasing. Keeps required votes for Mary Suhm and her brokedown old band of cracker bankers, sexual harassers, flow controllers, and other losers employed.
Hold all city council, mayoral and city manager meetings at the toll road location for a year. Let Rawlings put his ass where his mouth is.