Slow Learners: Dallas Morning News Plants Another Nail in Trinity Toll Road's Coffin

Michael Lindenberger had a great piece in The Dallas Morning News yesterday about public distortions of fact by former mayor Tom Leppert and backers of the Trinity Toll Road like the Trinity Commons Foundation before the 2007 toll road alignment referendum.

The main thing the story got across was that City Hall knew back then there were serious problems with the design and financing of the proposed highway between the levees. In spite of that, Leppert vowed to voters that the Corps had signed off on safety and the North Texas Tollway Authority had signed off on financing for the project. Neither was true.

The story said Leppert, who is running for the United States Senate, wouldn't comment. If people get nothing more from it, they should take from Lindenberger's story that Tom Leppert is a man whose most public and adamant vow cannot be trusted.

But people should get more from it.

It was well-written, probably well-edited, and I do not presume to improve on it. I just want to make sure a couple of points are not lost in the shadow of more sensational revelations.

Two very important secondary themes in Lindenberger's story have to do with the regional staff of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and with the NTTA. Basically, neither one of those agencies is ever going to tell the truth about the toll road any more than Leppert did.

The Corps is a public works construction contracting company owned by the federal government but whose principal business partners are local governments. The NTTA is a public works construction company owned in part by local government. Both entities depend entirely on local governments as their client base.

They do not want to offend local governments. Ever. And they won't if they can help it. So neither one of them is ever going to stick its neck out even a quarter inch and make a declaration yea or nay on building the toll road out where it floods.

Why should they? This vaunted plan to build a multi-lane high-speed expressway out in the middle of a floodway is never going to happen anyway. We have been saying this and reporting it here at the Dallas Observer for 13 years.

The basic idea is so bad, so directly and flagrantly in violation of state-of-the-art flood-control knowledge the world over, so fantastically upside-down in terms of transit efficiency, so wildly out of whack financially that it doesn't stand a snowball's chance anyway.

Why should the Corps or the NTTA take a huge political hit for telling Dallas what Dallas badly does not want to hear? The thing's never going to happen.

Read down into Lindenberger's story, and you will see Washington-level officials trading messages in which the toll road is called a "squirrelly project." One asks another if the thing can be killed at the Washington level if federal officials in Dallas fail to put a stake in its heart. "The answer to your question is yes," writes someone at the Pentagon, not named by Lindenberger.

This whole project has been one big municipal SAT exam for the old Dallas business establishment, very much including The Dallas Morning News, which shilled for the project in 2007 on every page of the paper. The results have not been good. I think this is the point where the school counselor, with the test results spread before her, starts talking with a tear in her eye about the dignity of honest labor.

I get the impression that The News has decided to play that role. This story and other signs I have seen on the editorial page tell me that the paper is preparing to let the community down easy in anticipation of some very bad news.

Guess what. We know all about it. We're bored. We'd rather talk about the Kessler Theater -- subject of an op-ed piece in The New York Times Sunday about the new cool Dallas.

It's incredible that anybody even thinks there is still a debate. But the establishment candidate for mayor, Mike Rawlings, is afraid to commit himself on the toll road. He says he's waiting to hear what the Corps decides, which is like waiting for the Martians to answer those radio signals we've been sending into outer space. I can't help reflecting that there is sometimes a fine line between extreme optimism and the wiggy ward.

Anyway, bottom line: Lindenberger's piece is well worth reading if you have not already. And by the way, if the Kessler Theater version of Dallas took the SAT, it could get into college anywhere in the world with a full-ride scholarship, so don't be depressed. It's all good. Some people just have a real bad letter coming in the mail.

Not you. Not me.