Corps' Attention to Detail Could Jeopardize More Than Just the Toll Road. The Whole Effin' Trinity Project Could Die!

"Attention to detail delays Army Corps of Engineers, frustrates Trinity Parkway supporters."

The headline of Michael Lindenberger's latest story on the Trinity Turnpike in The News serves as a powerful reminder of the fundamental difference between supporters and opponents of the toll road.

The opposition views the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the vital partner in the project, one likely to cause problems with the process because its focus is to make sure the floodway and levee system are as safe as possible. These folks find great comfort in comments like this one from Gene Rice of the corps' local office: "Our overriding concern is the safety and integrity of the levee."

The other side sees the corps as part of the bureaucracy that needs to be massaged and bullied when necessary in order to move this project forward. When the corps focuses on mindless things like details, these people get frustrated and say things like "They are taking too long."

One of these people is Craig Holcomb, executive director of the Trinity Commons Foundation, who is concerned that delays by the corps might cause the Trinity project to die. Before Mayor Tom Leppert led the Vote No! effort against the referendum on the toll road, Holcomb was the face behind "Save the Trinity," which attempted to stop people from having the opportunity to vote on the issue.

Holcomb told The News that he has focused his attention on urging the corps to speed its review of the road, and we already know Mayor Tom has been tattling on the corps to his friends in Washington, D.C.

"Because the forest, the horse park, the white-water, the lakes, the bridges, all those are important," Holcomb said. "But if we can't get this roadblock fixed [on the toll road], then everything comes to a halt. So for now our job is to figure out how to encourage the corps without making them enemies."

These are the same scare tactics we heard from Holcomb, Leppert and others during the campaign, but they never provided any facts to back up the claim that delays with the road would result in problems with any of the amenities. In fact, the Texas Horse Park has been struggling for quite some time, and it has nothing to do with the corps' evaluation of the toll road.

To catch those up who haven't been following, Texas Horse Park, Inc. partnered with the city to split the cost of a $30 million horse park, with THPI's $15 million due in September 2008. But that deadline came and went, and the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee hasn't been briefed on it since they voted to stop funding the design in December 2007 because THPI had raised only approximately $300,000.

Willis Winters, assistant director of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, says not much has changed with the project since he gave us an update in August. "The horse park has been put on hold, so to speak."

While funds for the horse park have been utilized to accelerate other projects, Winters maintains that $15 million is still allocated for the project. He referred us to THPI for specific fund-raising figures and says once it reaches a comfortable number, it will meet with council member Dave Neumann, who will then set up a briefing to the Trinity committee.

THPI would not release its fund-raising numbers and issued a statement through the president of its board of directors, Kevin Payne, who replaced Ben Casey at the beginning of the year.

In response to your request, the board is currently in the "quiet period" of our capital campaign. As such, we are in negotiations with several prospective donors for the Texas Horse Park. We have commitments that total in the millions; however, no agreement for public disclosure of the individual gifts has been reached. The capital commitments we currently have identified are also contingent upon setting a date for beginning construction of the park's first phase.

We expect to end the initial quiet period in the fourth quarter of 2009 and set the initial date for construction. At that time, we would be happy to discuss the individual donor commitments. If it would be helpful, we can update you should the calendar change.

Thank you for your interest in the Texas Horse Park and the Trinity Corridor Project.

So when it comes to the toll road, which is not fully funded and has numerous safety questions surrounding it, Holcomb whines that the corps is taking too long. Yet the horse park, which has nothing to do with the road whatsoever, is failing to get its private fund-raising off the ground, and instead of lighting a fire under their asses, he wants to blame that on the corps and the toll road too?

As Jim noted earlier, tomorrow afternoon Kevin Craig of the corps will brief the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee regarding the corps' "roles and responsibilities" regarding the Trinity project. Not sure where the horse park factors in that discussion, but we'll be there to find out.