Selling Us All Down the River

Now, the mayor's trying to tell us that the Calatrava bridges will stop flooding. Oh, that is such bullshit.

Mayor Laura Miller, speaking from Hobby Airport on her way back to Dallas, was on KRLD-AM (1080) just a bit ago talking about the Calatrava bridge. KRLD must be getting calls on my story in this week's paper. They were asking Miller things like, "Why do we even need this thing?" And, "Isn't a normal requirement for a bridge that it have water under it?"

The mayor said two things that really sent up red flags for me. First she said that a Calatrava suspension bridge, which costs three times what a regular concrete bridge costs, will last "three times longer," so it winds up being a good buy.

As far as I have ever been able to determine, this is flat-out not true. People have tried to float this argument for the bridge in the past--never quite this flamboyantly--and it doesn't work. No one has any numbers to prove or even support this contention.

If it were true, you'd have to think the state would be putting up Calatrava suspension bridges all over Texas. There is also the fact that the lifespan of a normal concrete bridge happens to be about the same period of time you can predict traffic patterns. You actually don't want to be married to a certain size bridge for 120 years, because you don't know yet if we're going to be taken over by Martians and flying around on anti-gravity dog bowls by then.

She said another thing that was quite interesting. She said these bridges are now to be considered flood protection devices, because they don't have concrete piers that would impede the flow of water. Pay attention to that one.

I have suspected for years that we're being lied to about the whole need for the bridges in the first place. After we voted for a park in the river bottom in 1998, the powers behind the scenes stuck an entire freeway project into the river bottom that we did not vote for.

Building a freeway in the river channel is terrible flood policy. It chokes the river and makes flooding much worse. To offset it, the city has proposed digging the river down deeper.

But doing that creates a kind of water-cannon dynamic, forcing more water through a deeper, narrower channel, greatly increasing water velocities. I have always suspected that the Corps of Engineers warned the city it was going to blow out all the existing freeway bridges with that deep channel.

Hence: suspension bridges. But they can't admit the real reason they need the bridges, because then the huge cost of new bridges has to be added to the cost of the freeway, which is already deeply in the red. By that I mean the freeway already costs way more than the value it can deliver in moving traffic. Put the cost of all new bridges on top of what it already costs, and you get a set of numbers that practically scream: DO NOT BUILD THIS FREEWAY. IT'S STUPID. IT'S NOT NEEDED. IT COSTS WAY TOO MUCH MONEY FOR THE BANG.

In her remarks about the importance of not having bridge piers, Miller may be lifting the corner of the tent a bit on that issue and inadvertently giving us a peek at the truth.

The worst thing about the Trinity River Project, as promoted by Laura Miller? It will create the very circumstances that flooded New Orleans last year--bad levees, bad flood control, bad public policy. Her legacy and the legacy of the Trinity River land hucksters pushing this thing will be disaster and tragedy, and I hope somebody remembers to mention it on their tombstones. --Jim Schutze


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