Here's another early peek at the Dallas City Council's briefing agenda -- this one concerning the list of projects, major and minor, the City Manager's Office is proposing to pay for out of the bond sale scheduled for May 2010. While we pore over the details for future Unfair Park items, one item in particular sticks out immediately: a proposal to spend $34 million acquiring properties "around the southern terminus of the Trinity Parkway." Specifically, says the proposal:
Efforts are underway to gain approval from FHWA to construct this southern terminus, from US 175 to IH-45, ahead of the rest of the Trinity Parkway. This connection will facilitate the early construction of the S.M. Wright Parkway.
Which will no doubt please council members Carolyn Davis, who told her constituents during the Trinity Parkway election that the only way the so-called Dead Man's Curve was going to straightened out was if they voted to keep the Trinity toll road inside the levees; and Angela Hunt, who's long called for a Trinity River Corridor Project "Plan B" that included putting Wright on the fast-track to fixin'. At the council's August 10 budget workshop, in fact, City Manager Mary Suhm and the city's chief financial officer, Dave Cook, reiterated to Hunt their commitment to getting it Wright -- despite the put-on-hold-for-God-knows-how-long Trinity Parkway, to which the city initially tethered the Wright construction.
Indeed, if you go back to the February 2008 presentation the Texas Department of Transportation gave to the council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee, you'll see a few example of what Wright might look like one it's straightened out. But you'll also notice on Page 4 the following caveat: "Project realization is dependent on the Trinity Parkway installation." And as recently as April, city council members were told construction on S.M. Wright wouldn't begin till at least 2014 and possible as late as 2016 because the redo is "dependent on Trinity Parkway construction first."
So what changed?
Just two weeks ago, The News, in an editorial, said that "City Hall is working with regional, state and federal officials to de-link the two projects." How? Messages have been left for assistant city manager Jill Jordan, who oversees the Trinity Corridor Project. The city and the Regional Transportation Council are also out seeking federal stimulus money for Wright.
Davis tells Unfair Park today that "from my understanding, the money's always been there for the S.M. Wright project. TxDOT wants to spend it and get that money out there. And it's totally separate from the Trinity."
When reminded that, no, it's not -- at least, it wasn't until recently -- Davis says, well, "Things change. You know that. Things have changed. And I'm going to wait till we get briefed on it to find out why the shift in changes and if the money's been there, why can't we start on the S.M. Wright freeway. But you're absolutely right. That has been the message: Let's get this done first before we get to the next phase. But there's been a shift that I myself will need get briefed on as a council member."
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So, would she have supported the Trinity Parkway so vehemently if she'd known S.M Wright could have been corrected without a road sunk inside the levees?
"I think I would have," she says.
Hunt, of course, is of two minds about this latest message: Yes, she's "thrilled we're moving forward with S.M. Wright without waiting another decade for this toll road to possibly come to fruition." But she's also less than thrilled that the city long insisted it couldn't go Wright without first building that road, which will remains a concept for who knows how much longer.
"It's frustrating to me that during the Trinity campaign, South Dallas was told over and and over again that S.M. Wright couldn't be fixed unless they built the toll road," Hunt says. "Yet again, it turns out that isn't true. If I had a nickel for every lie told during the Trinity campaign, I'd be a millionaire at this point."