Wick Allison posted a little essay this morning on FrontBurner about how wrong-headed and unfair Jim Schutze has been in his -- which is to say, my -- writings about the Trinity River Project. Readers might wonder why just now. On what cause, for what reason, has the publisher-editor of one of the nation's leading city magazines taken the bludgeon to me at this particular moment in time?
As always, I am eager and pleased to be able to strip away some of the mystery. Mr. Allison, I find, is a man who sometimes benefits from a good stripping.
The Trinity River project -- sold to the voters in 1998 on the basis of a fundamental and deliberate lie -- may be about to hit the wall. Last November the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced grave reservations about plans to build a new expressway on top of the earthen levees that protect downtown from flooding. Ex post Katrina, apparently, the Corps has decided maybe it has an obligation to think twice about allowing Dallas to use its shaky, muddy, constantly sinking flood-control berms as foundations for a high-speed limited access highway.
No shit, Sherlock.
It was a dangerously irresponsible idea from the beginning. I've always believed that if the Corps did allow the city to build a road on top of the levees, and if that road caused the levee to fail in some way, then there ought to be some kind of federal criminal proceeding or court-martial or at least a civil suit for damages that could be brought against the Corps officials who signed off on it individually or, if necessary, their estates. I know I'll sure be pressing for that if we ever get there, because I believe they have evidence in their files showing what a bad idea this is.
But here's what lights Allison's fire at the moment: If they can't put the highway on the levees, they're really screwed. They have to put it out closer to the river in the floodway, which means the whole thing has to be lifted up on bridges to keep it from flooding. The local cost of the road soars even higher than its current egregious levels.
All of a sudden, there ain't enough money for both the park and the road. And that's what gets us back to the underlying lie.
Voters were told in 1998 that this was about a park. It was not. In Allison's mainly inaccurate recounting of the history of the project, he does manage to slip and allow a wedge of truth: He concedes that the highway was central to the vision of the boosters even before the bond election in '98. What he doesn't say is that this thing has always been all about the road, and the park was lipstick on the pig to fool the voters into approving the bonds. Almost from the moment those bonds were authorized by voters, the city has shifted the spending schedule away from the park and toward the road.
The road is not what Allison claims it is -- a reliever route for the Mixmaster. Once again, we strip. The state highway department's own numbers show that there are several cheaper, more effective ways to relieve the Mixmaster by fattening up existing highways. The Trinity River road is a development road whose sole purpose is to take people where they do not want to go -- toward the land along the river that the boosters want to redevelop.
It happens to be the wrong way to redevelop that land, but that's another story. The boosters are old and not very smart and don't understand that a great park and a winding tree-lined lane will spur the re-development of their land better than a post-World War II freeway. Allison says I have something against rich people. Not at all. I just wish we had smart altruistic rich people in Dallas, the way they do in Fort Worth, instead of the rich clods and self-interested public-works contractors we have here.
Another shoe may falling as we speak, by the way. If and when Texas House speaker Tom Craddick gets the boot, the Trans-Texas Corridor -- a huge freeway and freight scheme -- may well crater with him. Some of the support and money the Trinity Road could have hoped for may go winging away if that happens.
So what happens then? I can tell you exactly what happens, and this may sort of help strip away Allison's motives for coming after me now. I suspect the road boosters are meeting and talking these days about the fact that there may no longer be enough money in the project for both road and park. So what will they say we should do about it?
Forget the park.
Believe me, faced with a choice, they will go for the road. They probably would see it as an injustice if the park, which they only dreamed up as a public relations ploy, somehow outmaneuvered their road.
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Here's the poison apple in the barrel: They told the voters it was a park. They lied. They never said it was a road. I truly hope they have to come back and admit the truth. Then we can hang 'em high -- politically speaking -- which is just what they deserve.
This is a long, drawn-out and reprehensible betrayal of the public trust. The people behind it and their families deserve to pay painful penalties.
The people of Dallas didn't vote for some kind of cheesy Sunset Strip along the river. They voted for a park. The way that promise has been corrupted and distorted since '98 is heartbreaking. But don't cry for me, Argentina. I know how to handle this stuff.
Robert Hoffman, indeed. Guy inherited money and bought pictures. I'm from Detroit. I'm ready for you, man. Bring it on. I'm your stripper. --Jim Schutze