Results of the Trinity toll road public opinion poll released yesterday by State Rep. Raphael Anchia are so devastatingly obliterating, so thermonuclear, in fact -- 94 percent of Dallas zip code respondents opposed to building it - that they direct a hole-burning focus on the obvious correlative question: OK, so who are the people who are still for it?
Maybe this morning's toll road "design summit" called by the mayor will provide an answer. Or, after talking it over yesterday with a number of toll road skeptics, allow me to rephrase that: the thing this morning damn well better produce some real candor and a lot of daylight on who still wants it, or they can forget it for good.
The mayor wants to hire outside experts to "tweak" the design of the highway. He thinks that can overcome the objections. But as City Council member Philip Kingston told me yesterday, design tweaks are not the problem. The real problem faced by backers of the road is that no one believes anything they say.
"They have no credibility any more," Kingston said. "Zero."
Why? Oh, we've talked about that so much, too much I'm sure, that most people probably have the low-down by now. The backers of building a freeway in the riverbed, possibly the dumbest idea in the entire history of mammalian cognitive activity, first said it was a detour while other freeways got fixed. Then when there wasn't enough money, they said forget the other freeways. Don't fix them. Just do this one.
They said the freeway would provide access to parks along the river. Then they cut off all the access points. They said it would draw traffic off other freeways and relieve congestion. When opponents used their own numbers to show that wasn't true, they said those numbers could no longer be relied upon because they had been used by bad people. The numbers were soiled now. We had to have all new ones.
Kingston is right. The Anchia numbers prove it. Most people think the supporters of the toll road are total bullshit. But a lot of people would still like to know who they are, especially if they are going to keep talking about it. Nobody wants full leather-bound biographies. A lot of people might settle for photos, just so we could see what they look like.
Yesterday when I wrote about this, some commenters took me to task on the old "follow the money" thing. Why do I and other reporters on this subject seem to shy away from naming the people who stand to profit from the building of a road? I said I wasn't sure it's entirely a follow-the-money type deal.
I said devotion to the toll road in the river may in some ways be a cultural thing, the artifact of a certain worldview among very out-of-touch people, and I put up a photo of Tsar Nicholas II's family rollerskating on the decks of their yacht while Russia fell to revolution
See also: Rawlings Wants Tweaks
OK, later I looked at the picture and thought, "The guy just asked who was behind the toll road. You didn't have to get all tsarist on him. It was a fair question."
It's somebody. Somebody makes out or thinks he makes out if he can get the government to build an underwater freeway, glug-glug, through downtown. The commenter didn't ask if a glug-glug underwater freeway was an incredibly stupid idea. Of course it's an incredibly stupid idea, and we all know that by now. What people want to know is who are the people -- what are their names? -- who are still kicking and screaming to get this incredibly stupid thing done?
Why haven't they all been named yet? I really don't want to embarrass myself and bore you with the litany of excuses, but it's a big litany. Kingston conceded to me that he has looked at it and found what I did: Most of the land in the path of the project is in the hands of what he called "single-purpose entities." The single purpose of those entities is to conceal ownership, which is not all that hard to do in Texas.
Some names, nevertheless, are obvious -- Ray Hunt, for example. The oil and real estate tycoon has major holdings on the river, and his man-Friday, John Scovell, has been intimately and aggressively involved. During her tenure as city manager, Mary Suhm was always viewed as a proxy for Hunt on anything he wanted from City Hall. Her main job in life now seems to be pushing for the toll road.
Big public construction companies were very important and active in the campaign to kill the 2007 Angela Hunt referendum and preserve the incredibly stupid underwater route for the freeway. Those companies make their money building stuff like this, just as they made money building levees in New Orleans before Katrina in 2005. It's falling down? Forget it. They're already out on the links in Palm Springs.
But none of that feels very satisfying as an answer to the commenters' questions. Given the absolute cratering of public credibility for this project illustrated by the Anchia poll, what are the names of the people who still have the nerve to push for it? And maybe more important, why would we listen to another single word from them if they are not willing to step up and be named? And I don't mean proxies. Not Scovell. Not Suhm. Not some number-cruncher from THE COG! (The North Central Texas Council of Governments and Politburo).
The dudes. The dudettes. They need to step forward, do us a little curtsy and spell their names for us. Otherwise the whole thing just becomes a very long shaggy dog story that isn't ever going to be funny.
Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs offered what I thought was a brilliant suggestion yesterday. The mayor, he pointed out, wants to convene a process to redesign the glug-glug freeway so that people will like it. Many of us would like to redesign it by putting a bullet in its head. But, wait. Wait. Griggs has a very good thought.
The redesign process the mayor wants to convene will cost money. Even the meeting this morning to announce it has already cost money. Somebody hired a public relations company to set it up. Craig Holcomb, executive director of the Trinity Commons Foundation, has said publicly that his group is raising money for the effort already.
Great. There it is. The list. Show us the list of people who are putting money into this effort, and we will know who is still behind the toll road.
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They don't have to disclose their names by law. No law says they must. But why would they not reveal themselves, especially at this extremely low point for them, when failing to step forward will only make a bad problem worse for them?
No one believes them. Everyone thinks they are dark conspirators hiding behind a scrim of salary men, salary ladies and bureaucrats. If they want to be believed, they need to be named. If they won't be named, they won't be believed.
The mayor wants to tweak the wrong thing. It's not the landscape design or the public art opportunity that's the problem. The problem is that whole project is viewed as something so dumb that it can't possibly really be what it appears to be. They have to be hiding a uranium mine or a satanic brothel or something in there.
The only people who would pay money for the mayor's tweak thing are people who still want the road. So let's see the list. No? OK, let's go back to the shoot-it-in-the-head option.