Spanish flyways

You've probably seen them: those sneaky ads disguised as articles that appear in newspapers. "Scientific breakthrough: Miracle drug melts pounds away," the headline says, and there above it in tiny type is the word "advertisement."

Well, we looked in the August D magazine for the word "advertisement" on a story about new bridges over the Trinity River, but couldn't find it. Presumably, this means that the article was intended as a reported, factual story.


D, the unofficial voice of the Trinity Project, reports that "five steel mountains spanning the Trinity River" designed by famed architect Santiago Calatrava will include replacements for the existing Interstate 35 and I-30 bridges, which were going to be rebuilt soon by the state and federal governments anyway.

That's the same story that Halff & Associates, the engineers on the Trinity project, told the city council recently when they pitched the Calatrava bridges. It's a nice story, but it's not true. D might have known that if they had bothered to call the feds or the Texas Department of Transportation. Dallas Observer staff writer Jim Schutze did a month ago, and found that neither bridge is on anyone's list for replacement in the foreseeable future ("Suckers," July 1). That means the plan for the fancy suspension bridges could cost you, the Dallas taxpayer, as much as $130 million extra for the project.

But that's OK. As D says, five soaring suspension bridges could be a big boost to Dallas' tourism business, as in: "Hey, honey, let's skip San Francisco this summer and go see the I-30 bridge in Big D."

D reports that Halff Chairman Joe Novoa traveled to Bilboa, Spain, for vacation last June, saw some Calatrava bridges there, and decided immediately that they were just what the Trinity needed. (Good thing he didn't go to Disneyland. God knows what sort of fantasy might be afflicting us.)

That's a good story too. It also doesn't exactly square with the facts.

Last December, six months after Novoa's epiphany in Spain, the promoters of the Trinity River plan were still trying to float "signature bridges" designed by local artist Ed Carpenter. In a letter dated December 21, Charles R. Tucker, director of transportation planning for TxDOT, shot down the whole idea of suspension bridges, calling it "seriously flawed" and saying the design of Trinity levees would make them impossible to build.

In the months that followed, city officials and their friends at Halff ignored Tucker's damning analysis and still have not told the city council about it. Eventually they came up with the idea of bringing in Calatrava, whose star wattage might be enough to hide the flaws and scorch critics.

D apparently was blinded by it. "The most surprising element of the proposal submitted by the Trinity team is not the beauty of the bridges...but the feasibility of building them," the magazine reported.

D at least got that much right, even if unintentionally. It would be surprising beyond words if the bridges were feasible.

Friends in low places

Please, may we have a little respect for Buzz? It turns out we have the ears of some influential people at City Hall: Some members of the committee appointed to draft a new municipal ethics policy appear to be regular readers.

OK, "influential" may be stretching things a bit. Still, it's good to have fans, even among that troupe of Don Quixotes tilting at the city council's ethical windmills. (With tortured metaphors like that, it's understandable why Buzz's fan base is small.)

As last week's ethics committee meeting was about to kick off, the Dallas Observer was the topic of discussion. One of the committee members had dragged in the new issue, which two other members were straining to read over his shoulder. (Note to the committee: The Observer is free, but, please, only one copy per person.)

It was more than committee member Donna Halstead, president of the Dallas Citizens Council, could stand. "Who are they assassinating this week?" she asked.

Donna, we would never assassinate anyone. And if you hear that an Observer reporter is contacting your former boyfriends, it's just a coincidence.

Two other members have bought themselves some coincidence insurance by praising Buzz. "It's the first thing I turn to," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Cliff Stricklin. "I rarely agree with him, but he's hilarious."

Why thank you, Cliff, you handsome devil. Those words will mean a lot to us someday, when you take your rightful place on the Supreme Court.

So long, friend

When Dave Beckwith exited from the George W. Bush camp last week, the Texas governor claimed that his press spokesman had departed as "a friend."

Buzz has heard the governor label all sorts of people as friends: the president of Mexico, the late Bob Bullock, political strategist Karl Rove.

However chummy Bush and his former employee might be, Beckwith's relationship with top campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes was a little more problematic, rumor has it.

Hughes is a former TV reporter in Houston, a straight-talking Texan who has been with Bush since his first gubernatorial campaign. She has a very different style from Beckwith.

"David plays the talk game," says Bill Miller, a political consultant in Austin. Hughes, when approached by a reporter, typically will ask for questions in writing and return the answers in the same form.

In contrast, Beckwith, who had served as a spokesman for former Vice President Dan Quayle, is more comfortable shooting from the hip. He uses his time with reporters to cajole information about their other sources and spin their stories, even if that means affecting collegiality with the press.

"I saw at the outset there were stylistic differences," Miller says. "I just didn't think it would happen so fast."

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams