Wherein Schutze Asks The News: Where's the "Trinity River Toll Road Dead!" Headline?
Ah, you know, even a blind hog can find the truth buried somewhere in The Dallas Morning News if he knows how to root-hog-or-die. Reminds me of the thing I wrote about two years ago, when The News waited until the day after the Trinity River referendum to reveal something its transportation writer, Michael Lindenberger, had known for a week: that Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert was misleading voters by telling them the toll road would never require more money from Dallas voters.
So today on his blog (but not in a story in the newspaper the previous day) --- and, waaaaaaay down at the very bottom of a very long item --- Linderberger reveals something else Wagemen has told him: that the toll road authority will not mortgage its system to build the Trinity Toll Road.
Lindenberger hints coyly about what that means: "Absent a windfall from Washington or a tooth fairy in Dallas, I am not expecting the Trinity Parkway to be built anytime ... soon," he writes.
Sure. But, Michael, but why not say it right out loud, since that, at least ostensibly, is the business we're in?
The Trinity River Toll Road cannot be built.
This is simple. At least a decade ago the NTTA hired a company called Wilbur Smith to measure how much toll revenue the Trinity River toll road would generate. The answer was: not nearly enough. The reason? The road isn't needed. It doesn't go where anybody wants to go. It will not significantly relieve traffic on other roads. Therefore it will not produce enough toll revenue to pay its construction mortgage.
For some years we have known the amount of the shortfall. A billion dollars. The NTTA can borrow $400 million against revenues. It will need at least a billion more to build the thing. That was why the NTTA went to Austin several years ago and got the law changed so that it could mortgage its entire toll road system in order to pay for a single road. That way it could borrow money against the revenues from all its roads to pay for the Trinity River toll road.
But guess what? Time marches on. Since then, the western end of the NTTA's domain around Fort Worth has come up with bigger better toll road projects it wants to do -- roads that will generate real revenue.
So here's what was buried at the bottom of the blog item appended to Lindenberger's story in the paper. Wageman, the NTTA board guy, has told Lindenberger (as paraphrased by Lindenberger), "if the authority builds SH 161, as it expects to, it will not have a penny to contribute to the Trinity --- not a penny, that is, over and above whatever the banks will lend against the revenues that will be produced on that road."
SH 161 is the big money road they do want to build.
In other words, they are using all their borrowing power for that one. That leaves not a penny of borrowing power for the Trinity River toll road, over and above what it can raise from its tolls, which we know is at least a billion dollars short of what it would take.
Let me remind you of Mayor Tom Leppert's two big promises to us in 2007: 1) The financing of the toll road was all taken care of, and 2) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had "signed off," in his words, on the flood safety issues in the Trinity River Project.
Neither was true. The News knew a week before we voted that the money wasn't there but didn't let us know until the votes were counted. The claims about flood safety and the Corps signing off on anything were a travesty.
And now, in this back-handed deep-buried way, The News lets us in on the big thing, which I guess is the good thing: the stupid road will never be built anyway.
It was all a waste of effort and money.
In newspaper heaven, that would be a front-page headline: TRINITY ROAD DEAD. But this is newspaper Dallas.