The Trinity Toll Road Will Flood, Expert Admits. Who Knew? Me.

The Pulitzer Prizes just came out. Once again I scan the list, searching for yours truly. Not a mention. But next year it will be different. Next year my early work on the Trinity River toll road is going to win me the Pulitzer and possibly also the Nobel and if they have a prize that's like a boy genius Einstein award for just being great, I'll be picking that one up, too, thank you.

Of course, tooting my own horn goes against my basic modesty, a quality for which I may possibly be in for some recognition as well one day. But in this instance, I really must toot.

If you missed it, Robert Wilonksy had a story yesterday in the Morning News saying the federal government has decided that if you put a freeway out in the area between the levees along the river where it floods, the freeway will flood. This finding is based on 20 years of research, countless studies and millions of dollars worth of scientific, engineering and environmental examination.


The concept here -- build it, and it will flood -- should and could and ought to be called the Jim Schutze theorem. I am not asking for that, because of my modesty. I just want the prize money. But this is, in fact, the Jim Schutze theorem: Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is slated to release the full seven-and-a-half-zillion-page document not counting appendices in which the corps will explain how they figured out that if you build a freeway out between the levees in the area where it floods, it will flood.

If you don't mind, I would like to tell how I came up with this 20 years ago and get that on the record before Friday. In 1996 I was the Dallas bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle. They asked me to write a story about the Trinity River project. I talked to this lady who worked for the Texas Department of Transportation who explained to me that Dallas really wanted a road along the river (meaning somebody in Dallas wanted it) but that such a road would never qualify for big federal and state dollars because it wouldn't do much to relieve traffic congestion. The basic problem has always been that the Trinity River road is not planned to go where traffic wants to go. That's still the bottom-line reason why it has never been built.

She didn't say it back then, but the road along the river has always been what is called in the trade a "development road." Rather than relieving traffic, its purpose is to create new traffic by bringing cars into an area of land that somebody wants to develop.

The problem was and is: How can you build it without the big federal and state bucks? The solution was to get free land -- right-of-way nobody would have to pay for.

So that is when the somebodies, whoever they may be, came up with the idea of building their freeway on the "free" land out between the levees, where it floods twice a year, sometimes not by much, sometimes way up high on the sides of the levees. During those really high floods, the levee system fills up sort of like a 23-mile-long bathtub.

The bathtub! This really is where the Jim Schutze theorem was born. In the tub. No, really. Look, I don't want to take you deeper into my personal life than you may feel comfortable going, but I will tell you that I am a big personal fan of the tub.

I was in the tub, in fact, when it came to me. Hey, did you ever see that thing on PBS about Einstein and how he was riding around Vienna on a streetcar one day for some reason and he saw all these people and horses going by in all directions and the theory of relativity just popped into his head? Well that's what happened to me.

Here's what I did. I drained the tub. I took these little smooth rocks that my wife keeps stacked up on the window sill (no idea why), and I placed several on the bottom of the tub. In my imagination, I pretended that they were little tiny cars and trucks and that they had little tiny human passengers in them.

I placed the plug back in the drain on the bottom of the tub. Then I fully opened both the hot and the cold water taps. And I watched to see what would happen to the little tiny human passengers.

Oh my gosh! The water was going right over the tops of them. They were drowning! Too late I realized I should have devised some kind of emergency evacuation plan to get the little tiny passengers out of their pretend-vehicles and up out of the tub before they all died. Sadly, because this was so early in my work, no such plan was in place, and you must imagine the outcome.

So why, you might ask, would I deserve prizes for this insight? Well, I must point out a couple of things. It has taken the Corps of Engineers 20 years to figure this same thing out. And every time Angela Hunt said all these same things during the 2007 referendum (I am willing to share the prize money with you, Angela), the other side always pointed out quite accurately that the entire elected and business leadership of the city of Dallas except for her was foursquare behind the idea of building a freeway out in the area between the flood control levees where it floods.

It was a very effective line in the ads against Hunt's referendum. She wanted to move the freeway out from between the levees and build it where it doesn't flood. But the other side always said, "What, are you and Schutze geniuses, and everybody else in leadership in Dallas is a moron?"

There are two possible answers. I like the first one -- Yes! -- for reasons I have already made clear. But the other thesis would be this: No, Schutze and Hunt were not geniuses to know that if you build it where it floods, it will flood. That took fairly minimal intelligence.

And no, the entire leadership of the city was not made up of morons. But it was made up almost entirely of little shiny-faced suck-ups -- engineering firms, construction companies, lawyers, architects, insurance salesmen, all of them greedy for new clients and billable hours, all of them aided and abetted by a daily newspaper desperate to survive and not eager to tick off major supporters. Not one of them spoke up for the little tiny human beings in the trucks and cars and buses. Why? Because they lacked the basic human decency to do so.

At the recent City Council briefing reported on by Wilonksy, council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston worried out loud about the human passengers in the vehicles on a freeway built to flood. Obviously Hunt worried about them when she was on the council, and I'm sure still does today. I believe we have a new cadre of leadership developing in Dallas that does have basic decency where public interest, welfare and safety are concerned. That's not the genius/moron paradigm, at all. It's the shiny-faced suck-up/decent human being paradigm.

But before we start talking too much about all that, I'd like my prizes first, please. And if I can't have prizes for my soggy toll road theorem, someday ask me what I also figured out while I was in the tub about bass fishing.