Citizens Council President Says Trinity Vote Was About Whether There Would Be a Toll Road at All, Not Keeping it Outside the Levees

As we mentioned yesterday, tomorrow's cover story in the paper version of Unfair Park features Mayor Tom Leppert. One of the more fascinating interviews we grabbed while researching the piece was with former city council member Donna Halstead, who since 1998 has been president of the Dallas Citizens Council. She was reluctant to sit down with us at first -- as was her organization's chairman, John Scovell -- based on some bad experiences with the Observer in the past, but Halstead decided to give us a second chance, although Scovell was unwilling.

Inevitably, our conversation found its way to the Trinity River Corridor Project, which Halstead praised Leppert for "making his own" and working out the problems so the project could be realized. Then Halstead revealed that her impression of the 2007 Trinity River toll road referendum was that voters were choosing whether or not a road would be built as part of the project as opposed to the actual ordinance, which restricted the speed and size of any road build within the levees, along with ensuring that it provided direct park access.

Dallas Observer: Certainly his focus, at least as far as the referendum was concerned, was about making sure that the road stayed inside the levees. And clearly with the recent corps' reports and everything like that, there's been concerns raised. Has that...

Halstead: I'm going to back you up a little bit, Sam.

DO: Sure.

Halstead: His concern was that we maintain the road as a part of the overall plan. That was the question that the referendum asked of the voters. Do we want to have a roadway as a part of the overall plan for the Trinity project? And the answer to that is yes. And the reason the answer to that is yes is because we have one of the five worst bottlenecks in the country in the downtown canyon where 30 and 35 and all that mess comes together. And the only way we can address that is to have a reliever route. And the only reliever route that makes sense, at least from the studies that have been done, is a route that follows the Trinity project.

DO: But the referendum wouldn't have prevented other alternatives from being used -- the Industrial option could have been used. Essentially, it was a fight over whether or not it was going to be inside the levees.

Halstead: I think there were a lot of people who believed that the fight was over whether or not there should be a roadway at all. I think if you ask the average voter out there, they would say that it wasn't a question of where the road was going to be, but whether or not there was going to be a road.

DO: But as far as the actual language itself...

Halstead: I can't remember the language exactly, but I think you're right. But when you look at how the campaign was delivered to the voter, the question the voter was asked was do we put a road there or not.

DO: So, as far as the Citizens Council is concerned, are you guys just dead set on making sure that it's inside the levees, or are you just dead set on making sure there's a reliever route?

Halstead: We're dead set on making sure there's a reliever route as a part of the whole process. We don't pretend to be able to answer the engineering questions or the hydrology questions or any of those sorts of things.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten