In the Absence of a Trinity River Project, Fun and Fascinating Meetings

As mentioned earlier, I spent this afternoon at City Hall digesting PowerPoint presentations during the council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee meeting in hopes of getting to the bottom of some possible delays in the Dallas Floodway Extension outlined here. But having been to enough of these get-togethers, I should've known there was no way they'd get through all the pretty pictures in time, especially with the third one containing 62 slides alone.

Turns out, the committee only was able to plow through two presentations during an hour and a half, pushing the 62-slide epic and floodway extension presentation until next meeting. We'll get more in-depth when the committee takes a look, but the news regarding the possible floodway extension delay is, in short: "If congressional funding continues to be reduced annually, the DFE will not be complete in 2014 as previously expected." So, essentially, the city needs to step up its lobbying efforts big time.

Before the meeting began, chairman Dave Neumann boasted about the new timelines included in the committee members' packets. This information wasn't posted online or given out at the meeting, but rest assured we'll get our grubby hands on them soon.

Then Paul Dyer, director of the city's Park and Recreation Department, went through the first presentation about the gateway projects, slide by freggin' slide, reading the text as if no one could do it for themselves.

Mitchell Rasansky was first to ask questions afterward, first noting that he would be commenting on the timelines that Neumann had alluded to, but Rasansky never got around to asking about them. However, he did make a strong point regarding the gateways. Rasansky pointed out that the presentation included dollar amounts for particular projects that the city had funding for -- only, it did not state how much these projects would actually cost.

Rebecca Dugger, director of the Trinity River Corridor Project, told him that her strategy would be to design the projects based on the funded amounts. When Rasansky asked if the taxpayers would be asked in future bond programs to pick up the tab if the cost went over the funding amount, Dugger again said the plan is to design to the funded number.

Rasansky also noted that he has yet to receive a breakdown of the funding amounts and expenditures from the $246 million Trinity River Project bond package from 1998.

In addition to the projects with funding, there were, of course, projects listed that have no funding at all. This prompted Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia to ask Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to explain what will happen to projects that are planned but lack funding.

Jordan noted that part of the 2006 bond program was used for Trinity-related projects without funding. "My anticipation for 2010 is that things that are unfunded would be candidates for inclusion in that bond program," she said.

Then council member Carolyn Davis took the mic, and it made sitting through any amount of PowerPoint madness totally worthwhile. Maybe it's me, but I get the sense that there are a lot of people out there sick of seeing all the computer-generated pictures of what the park is supposedly going to look like. But count Davis as one who has seen far too little of the city's fancy photos. Referring to slide 14 in the gateway presentation, she attacked Dugger and Jordan, asking them to do a better job of making the pictures look better.

"I want to see some pictures. I want you to help me -- give me an imagination of how it could look," Davis said. "See, because it's all about presentation. Because, right now, I ain't feeling this here."

She rambled on for a while about this, but it was put to shame by what may be one of the most jaw-dropping questions from a council member in a long time. Davis called the committee's attention to slide 8, where it lists the MLK Gateway status as "TRCP Committee will be updated fall '08." And then this happened.

"What's the TRCP, Jill?" Davis asked Jill Jordan.

"The Trinity River Corridor Project," Jordan replied.

"OK, the Trinity River Community," Davis said. "What's the P for?"

"Corridor Project Committee," Jordan and others corrected her.

"Corridor Project Committee," Davis repeated. "And who is that committee?"

[At this point, I heard a slight moan from Craig Holcomb, executive director of the Trinity Commons Foundation, as the other committee members looked stunned.]

"It's us," Jordan and various committee members chimed in.

"It's us. OK. I just want to make sure," Davis said. "I just want to make sure. OK, then."

The second item discussed involved the possible use of alternative energy sources, such as wind power, to light the Trinity Turnpike. The committee didn't seem sold on potentially spending $10 to $18 million for windmills, but it did vote unanimously to move forward with creating an infrastructure that could also be used for solar power at a cost of $225,000. The committee also voted unanimously to use the North Texas Tollway Authority's lighting standards for the turnpike, which includes lights on the access roads but not on the road itself.

When the meeting adjourned, I grabbed Dugger to find out the costs associated with the solar-powered water taxi that has been appearing recently in PowerPoint presentations. She told Unfair Park that it will likely be left to a concessionaire, which I took to mean that they have no intention of funding such a thing, and it was only included in the drawings to make people like Carolyn Davis happy, which apparently didn't work. Also, Dugger tells us that the cost for the funky shades that will replace trees has not been determined.