Real Estate

Ed Okpa on the Trinity River Toll Road And Why He's Never Mentioned in The Dallas News

Since last week's piece in The News about David Kunkle, Ron Natinsky and Mike Rawlings's thoughts on the Trinity River toll road is behind the pay levee, allow me to summarize: Natinsky's still very much for it; Kunkle's ain't at all interested, and Rawlings is taking the ol' wait-n-see. But, see, that's just three Dallas mayoral candidates queries, and last I looked there was a fourth running: Edward Okpa -- a perennial candidate, a Real Estate Academic Initiative at Harvard University alum and the Nigerian immigrant who, three years ago, found out how awful local politics can be when, as Jim wrote at the time, he got "slimed in the whole Dallas Area Rapid Transit board appointment process."

It's not the only time Okpa has been left out of mayoral-race recaps this short season; he's not in today's throat-clearing coalition-building round-up either. Which is, perhaps, to be expected: He didn't fare well in his two previous runs, coming in third outta five in '03 and garnering but 429 last-place votes four years later, and is running this time around against a sitting council member, a Park Board prez with the Citizens Council's blessing and the former Dallas Police chief. Then again, how's an unknown supposed to get known when the only daily paper in town ignores him altogether?

"They're biased," Okpa tells Unfair Park. "They never even called me on the Trinity River. I spoke to an editor there and said, 'How can your paper be fair when you don't even ask me?'"

So, we did: Where do you stand on the Trinity River toll road?

"The challenge with the Trinity River is we don't even know which agency we need to speak with about funding it," he says. "One of the challenges is funding, and if using tolls is what will get it done, as opposed to the traditional way we've funded rights of way, that may be the best option. Then 20, 30 years later, once the revenue is realized and we're able to pay off the capital improvements, it stops being a toll road. Because right now, we'll wait at least another 10 years to get money from TxDOT. But we've wasted all this money paying all these consultants to tell us what we already know."

So, then, he's still in support of a toll road between the levees?

"That's an engineering action. If the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers thinks it will create a problem, we have to move it out of the levees. But if they think it'll work, then we should do it. So, yes, I'm for the road, but it depends on how you can best relieve the congestion in the canyon. But we haven't been told the options: If you do it with public funding, this is what will happen; if you do it with private money, this is what will happen; if you do it with tolls, this is what will happen. Any capital project has to be dollar-specific. And so when you look at the capital investment and then look at your revenue and deduct all the expenses, what is the return on investment for the Trinity River toll road?"

"I'm for a road in the Trinity River because of the impact to the surrounding community and its impact on alleviating congestion in the canyon, but we have to say: 'It's going to cost $1 billion, we project this many cars, we'll project this kind of revenue.' We have to develop funding to retire the debt. Look at the Thames in London. You pay toward that river if you develop along the river. That will improve the land value, and we need to find a way to recapture that. It's about public improvement."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky