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Predicting What the News Will Say about the Trinity Doesn't Require a Crystal Ball

Predicting What the News Will Say about the Trinity Doesn't Require a Crystal Ball

OK, look: if I predict the future, and the future turns out to be exactly what I predicted, I have a right to point that out, right? It's not bragging. C'mon. It's more like pointing out that I wasn't being a total nutcase.

So last week in my column in the newspaper, I told readers exactly what The Dallas Morning News was going to say about the Trinity River Toll Road.

I didn't do something stupid like predict they were going to say they're 100 percent in favor of building a multi-lane expressway in the middle of the Trinity River floodway. That would have been obvious. They're always for that. No, I said exactly how they were going to be for it -- precisely what their reasoning would be.

The big debate is whether we should build the Trinity toll road, a new highway practically on top of the river, or do Project Pegasus instead, which is fixing the existing tangle of old freeways through downtown to make them more efficient.

I said the News will come out soon with an editorial saying that the numbers and measurements for these projects are really complicated. But the toll road is new, so it can be built without detours and traffic delays. It can charge tolls. It's big and brassy! So let's just do it.

In other words, I predicted they would come up with a silly-ass rationalization for what they always say anyway: We want our toll road, because we're us, and we want it, now.

So last Friday Rodger Jones, the guy who's working on the News' next toll-road-now editorial, posts a thing on the paper's editorial page blog starting off all sissy-pants and nose-in-the-air about what a nutcase I am.

"The active mind of Jim Schutze has floated this theory..." he begins, then quotes my prediction.

Then he sets about saying what he's really going to say in the editorial. And guess what? He says exactly what I just said he was going to say.

First he says the numbers are real hard to figure out: "Actually, he was getting close with his point about the numbers being too much to follow," he says of my prediction.

He says the only answer is to ignore half of the numbers and focus instead on only one set of measurements, called "capacity."

"You have to wipe out of your mind the possibility of knowing a traffic forecast," he says. "Focus on one thing: The design capacity is the capacity."

Mmm, no. I don't have to wipe jack shit out of my mind, actually, thank you, and I don't think wiping stuff out of your mind is ever a good idea, but let's come back to that.

He says the toll road should be built before Pegasus, because it's "the one that could be done most easily without the other."

But so what? It would be even easier to go down to Ellis County and build an expressway through the pastureland that nobody will ever drive on. And if no one ever drives on it, think of the savings on maintenance!

Jones says exactly what I said he would say about the toll road being able to charge tolls: "...the Trinity has the advantage of being able to be fully tolled," he writes.

I don't know what "fully tolled" means. All of the projections he wants us to wipe out of our minds show that the toll road can never raise enough money in tolls to pay more than a fraction of what the road will cost to build and run. And he's conveniently ignoring that we could put tolled lanes in Project Pegasus too.

Jones does toss in one idea I did not predict, because, even though I have always suspected them of believing this, I really didn't think anybody at the News would have the nerve to say it out loud. He says the Trinity River is a piece of crap anyway, so who cares if it gets paved over?

"As for the idea that a roadway will defile the Trinity, I'd remind readers that the road would mostly go through what's now a giant ignored grassy plain with an arrow-straight trickle of muddy water in the middle. (Schutze calls it a "waterfront," but let's get real.)

"It's mostly a dull, man-made channel that was shoved a good distance west of downtown so the river doesn't mess with anyone during those few times that rain causes it to leave its scrubby banks. The rest of the time the public doesn't even know it's there."

I'm not a religious man, but I do believe we dwell beneath the umbrella of forces far larger, grander and infinitely more mysterious than ourselves, so I would offer the opinion that Jones is at his deadest wrongest here: Man can make a lot of stuff, from fancy bridges to fake lakes, but man did not make this river that the Spanish called Santisima Trinidad. Turning our backs on it and burying it because we think we are more grand than nature itself is some kind of serious sacrilege.

But then we come to the last part of my prediction, in which I said the News would wind up saying, "So let's do it! Let's just do it!"

Jones writes: "I'd also acknowledge that the Trinity would be more than a financial feat; it would be somewhat of a first in the U.S. -- a major roadway in a major floodway, and post-Katrina, no less. Again, we want big things out of our mayor."

Yeah, but don't we want big good things? A major road in a major floodway, and post-Katrina, no less? Is he trying to be funny? No, I think he means it.

What's wrong with a major road in a major floodway? Hey, folks, sorry to be a bore, but the floodway is a 23-mile-long half-mile wide 50-foot deep bathtub when it floods. Once again I urge that we go to our own bathtubs again to test this idea. Toy metal cars on bottom of tub. Plug in drain. Both taps on full. What happens to toy cars? That's us on the Trinity River toll road.

The numbers Jones asks us to wipe from our minds are the congestion mitigation numbers -- How effective is one plan over the other at reducing congestion? Congestion mitigation is the touchstone, the absolute centerpiece of all road planning in this country. Jones wants us to ignore it, because when you look at congestion mitigation numbers, Pegasus comes out way ahead of the toll road.

Instead he wants to invent a whole new system, de novo, for evaluating this one road, based on capacity, which has nothing to do with where people want to go or will go.

But, look, you knew all this. So did I. Roger Jones' job at the News -- and he's only the latest boy on this beat -- is to come up with some kind of convoluted whomperjawed justification for what the paper always says anyway, no matter what the facts.

They want their road. No matter what.

So does predicting all this make me Swami Jim? Ah, probably not. But it does make me feel good to see them dance so nicely to my little tune -- kind of like playing with puppets.


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