Dallas City Council OKs Studying a Low-Speed Trinity Parkway, but Toll Road Plan Still Lives

The Trinity River toll road, that high-speed, six- to 10-lane highway between the levees that even Mayor Mike Rawlings' appointed "Dream Team" of urban planners said was a truly bad idea, is not dead. It's just looking a little peaked after a long, crowded City Council meeting where toll road opponents still couldn't muster the strength to kill what's the highway -- aka Alternative 3C -- in favor of the meandering, low-speed parkway the Dream Team and loads of former highway supporters now say is the best option for the Trinity.

The council did agree to implement a study about implementing (yes, that's right) the Dream Team's parkway proposal, but good old Alternative 3C is still an option.

Not that it will necessarily rise again like Christopher Lee in a Dracula movie, but that wouldn't be a bad way to bet, given the project's history. If you've followed this issue for a while, what you're feeling right about now is called deja vu.

Rawling, a 3C supporter who hedges, assembled the Dream Team in response to widespread opposition to the toll road. Its recommendations, unveiled on Tuesday, are reminiscent of the meandering parkway suggested in the city's "Balanced Vision Plan" for the Trinity put together in 2003, when the toll road ran into trouble. That plan again morphed into the high-speed road, built into an elevated earthen shelf next the levee, that opponents say will cut into land and access to a planned Trinity River park no matter how many lanes of traffic are built on top of it -- four, six or 10.

Almost universally, City Council members voiced support for the Dream Team's plan at Thursday's specially called all-toll road meeting.

"This is what we wanted to see, I'm excited about this," Sandy Greyson, a long-time opponent of the toll road said.

Like her fellow toll road opponents on the council, Scott Griggs and Phillip Kingston, Greyson expressed concern that researching the Dream Team's proposal without repudiating Alternative 3C would lead to the inevitable backtracking that's accompanied every plan for a small road between the levees since time immemorial -- or roughly 1997.

Vonciel Jones Hill, a stalwart toll road supporter, called Alternative 3C essential to her priority for the Trinity project: moving drivers.

"Perhaps I'm paranoid, but when I hear anyone who says 3C should be delayed I think that is code for killing the road. I think it's clear that my interest is the transportation interest," Hill said, apparently unaware of reports that a high speed toll road would have negligible, if not negative, effects on traffic.

Other pro-toll road council members were more conciliatory to the Dream Team's plan, at least at first, but they echoed Hill's concern that pulling out of the federally approved plan would slow down the Trinity project, perhaps irrecoverably. Hearing council member Jennifer Gates express both fear that the Trinity road project would again balloon and desire to move along under the 3C plan for the road made it clear that Dallas is stuck with Alternative 3C for now, or at least until May's council elections.

Greyson's motion to dump Alternative 3C before moving forward with the Dream Team plan was defeated 10-4.

After Greyson's amendment failed, Kingston sent the council into a parliamentary mare's nest by trying to get the council to vote on whether they actually approve of the high-speed road, but then council member Lee Kleinman offered some sort of amendment that muddied the waters to the point that the vote on Kingston's motion became meaningless, if not downright impenetrable. The council voted on something, anyhow, but even its members didn't seem quite sure what exactly -- always a good sign.

How to sum up the meeting? Conflicted is a good word: Hey, love the parkway, but let's keep our options open. In other words, it's a lot like 2003.

Or in other, other words: What's the term for doing something over and over again and expecting different results?

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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