Last Sunday The Dallas Morning News published a special section designed as a program/brochure for all the parties planned next weekend, anchored by a Lyle Lovett concert, to celebrate the opening of the city's new Santiago Calatrava bridge over the Trinity River.
But the bridge won't open Friday. It isn't done being built. You could drive off the side and get killed. So the Dallas Police Department has refused to allow traffic on it, in spite of the Morning News special section and Lyle Lovett.
Is it wrong to laugh? Yes. Is it mean? Yes. Do we laugh? Of course. The whole thing — all the hoopla and the Morning News and the pretentiousness, all for a bridge opening as if it were the end of World War II — and then the bridge isn't even open.
Maybe it wouldn't be so funny if it didn't remind us of the last great Trinity River project opening, for the so-called Dallas Wave. That was only last May.
The Dallas Wave was another fantabulous Barnum & Bailey feature of the Trinity River project. Opening parties were held, news conferences called, photo ops provided with couture-wearing Park Cities ladies in high heels on plywood at a fly-blown mud flat just below downtown.
The object of all that celebration was a bleak concrete dam set down in the turbid brown waters of the Trinity supposedly to re-create a whitewater kayaking feature one of the couture ladies had seen somewhere in Colorado. At a cost of $4 million in tax dollars, the Dallas Wave was an effort to persuade the public that the Trinity River project really was all for them — and don't look behind that curtain at the $2 billion toll road their men-folk want to build on top of the river to promote the redevelopment of the old Stemmons industrial corridor.
The party face of the Trinity River project has always been the domain of The Trinity Trust, a group of Park Cities ladies, their architects and decorators, and in the true spirit of the Park Cities the big thing for them has always been ... the partaay!
Poor design, bad construction, a screwball idea in the first place: Nobody quite knows yet why The Wave came out so poorly, but the city banned boats from it almost immediately after experienced paddlers began reporting that it was capable of killing whole families in canoes. Nary spade nor jackhammer has touched it since.
This is not to say the city won't open the Calatrava bridge some day. The state highway department has said they will have it fixed so people won't drive off the side by the end of March.
And in the meantime, who really cares? When it does open the bridge will carry a dozen or so cars a day across the river to an industrial area best described as a burnt-over hellscape. No pedestrian traffic will be allowed on the new bridge, probably to discourage refugees.
In fact, only as bread and circuses could something like the "signature bridge" plan make any sense in the first place. Why else would a major American city even consider knocking down a half dozen or more perfectly good bridges to replace them with faux suspension bridges? That sounds more like the plot for a dystopian science-fiction novel about mass psychosis.
But we have to remember how the project was first broached to us. In 1999 when the idea of replacing six existing bridges and building an additional one first came up, Dallas lawyer David Laney, a pal of Morning News Publisher Robert Decherd and at that time chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, suggested broadly that the state would probably pick up most of the costs.
And not too much later, the Dallas City Council was presented with a briefing saying the first bridge, the one that isn't opening this weekend, would be free. No, better than free! Armed with a report from some post-office-box outfit called Insight Research, city staff told the council a huge office building would be built next to the new bridge — only if it was a Calatrava! — and pay so much in taxes that the city would make a profit on the bridge.
Wow. How could you turn that down?
The Observer demanded to see the report under the Texas Public Information Act. The city refused. The Observer appealed the city's decision to the Texas attorney general. Eventually we went the old-fashioned route and had somebody slip it to us out the back door.
Guess who the developer was who was going to build the big office tower that would turn the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge into a profit center? The city!
Two things about that. No, make that three things. One, the city can't commit to building a huge new office tower without some kind of a vote. Two, the city doesn't pay taxes to itself. Three, now that the bridge is almost done, have you seen any signs of a big office tower going in?