Every once in a while life provides us with a major reality check, which can be good or bad, depending on our relationship with reality. The news yesterday that the massive reconstruction of Dallas' downtown freeways is about to get under way at long last contained one very big reality check -- a thing I do not want anybody to miss.
The so-called "horseshoe project" is a basic rebuild and expansion of the huge knotted nest of freeway intersections and approaches and exit ramps and service roads where Interstate 30 and I-35E crash into each other downtown at the Trinity River. It's like a gigantic granny knot in the shoelaces of the city.
We've known for a long time that all of this was to be redesigned and rebuilt. That's not my reality check. The reality check is this: They are going to do all of it without building the Trinity River Toll Road as a so-called "reliever route" or detour.
Remember? That was the line. Oh, we can't possibly take on a huge project like rebuilding the existing freeways downtown until we have the Trinity River Toll Road to act as a detour for all the misplaced traffic.
That was always utter bullshit. You don't build an entire new freeway to act as a construction detour for another freeway. That's just crazy talk. If you need detour, you make a detour. Not a freeway.
Just for grins, take a gander at the Texas Department of Transportation PDF document online describing the horseshoe deal. It says in plain English that they will handle traffic in this entire massive project exactly the way they did in construction of the huge "High Five" intersection at Central Expressway and LBJ Freeway -- by never cutting off traffic during peak travel times, carrying all of the peak traffic along the same route it travels along now using plain-Jane regular old detours alongside the existing roadway.
In fact the contractor gets fined if they cut off traffic during rush-hour and force it to go elsewhere. Here's TxDOT's language: "Traffic will be maintained on the entire project with lane and ramp closures when necessary. The proposed contract includes financial penalties for closing lanes during peak travel times.
"Complete road closures, if necessary, will be performed during off-peak hours. Closure and detour signs will be posted well in advance and will also be communicated through regular avenues of communication, i.e. website, mobile alerts, email notifications and news releases."
Yeah. Detours. That's what they will use for detours. Detours. Not a new expressway. That story -- that they needed to build a new expressway to act as a detour for the downtown freeway rebuilds -- was an example of City Hall's willingness to say any kind of crazy shit in order to get what it wants.
They just want that road. The powers that be in the city, including people who believe a new toll road on top of the river will benefit their landholdings and interests, just want the road. So they will say anything to get it.
But if you keep your eye on these people over time, major reality checks do come along and do expose their transparent galling duplicity. Let me give you another example. Back when they were pitching the Margaret Hunt Hill Calatrava Bridge to Absolutely Nowhere as a great investment for the city, city staff showed the City Council a so-called economic projection they said proved there would be all kinds of major development around the bridge as soon as it opened. In fact they said there was already one huge entity lined up with plans for a big complex right at the foot of the bridge.
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I asked who it was. They wouldn't say. I asked for a copy of the detailed study under the Texas Public Information Act. They wouldn't give it to me. The issue went to the Texas Attorney General. He wouldn't give it to me. So I went the old-fashioned route and got somebody to slip me a copy (later confirmed as authentic by city staff) in a brown envelope in the basement of City Hall. That's called the Dallas Observer Information Act.
Guess who the huge secret party was planning to build a big complex at the foot of the bridge? It was city staff! They were going to build their own complex. But I guess they were shy about it, since nobody had ever said a word of such a project.
OK, reality check. Go look at the bridge now. It's up and running. Do you see a big shiny new government complex anywhere near it? I don't see a damn thing. The only thing I see is some guys over on the West Dallas side who say they're going to have a bunch of restaurants in a warehouse, an idea based on a whole new concept in real estate development: "Not location, not location, not location."
If you watch these things emerge over time, eventually reality will emerge. And these major reality checks tell us what value to put on all of the big public assertions that come from City Hall when they just want something. These were two big assertions: 1) Every time you repair a freeway, you have to build another freeway as a detour. 2) Bridges cause development booms. So now we see what they were worth. Don't even get me started on horse parks.