The public reaction to Mayor Mike Rawling's "Dream Team's" coming-out party yesterday has been startling for its lack of cynicism. D Magazine Editor Tim Rogers wrote a piece headlined "Larry Beasley Just Killed the Trinity Toll Road" -- Beasley is the leader of the Dream Team. The Morning News ran a glowing editorial officially changing its position on the potential road through a Trinity River park, and the American Institute of Architects in Dallas issued a statement Wednesday saying it supported the plan.
All of this despite the fact, as Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston made clear, that it's hard not to feel déjà vu. Each time Dallas has been promised a low-speed, meandering parkway, the plan's slowly evolved into a big, honking freeway. Forgive us, but as long as Alternative 3C -- the plan that requires any road to be built on a shelf large enough to accommodate six lanes plus shoulders, minimum -- is the only thing that's been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration, it's hard not to be dubious. Still, let's acknowledge the possibility that things could be different this time, if only because thinking we live in a deterministic universe can be depressing.
"What's going to change the conversation this time around is removing the design parameters for the toll way from the road," Bob Bullis, the president of AIA Dallas says. "What's going to ensure that we don't have a redo of the Balanced Vision Plan is you and I and every other citizen in Dallas who cares about the road and is interested in and follows the road."
The Balanced Vision Plan was the city's last effort to tell citizens that the road would dovetail nicely with a park. It resulted in the plan for a multi-lane, high-speed toll road that many, many, many people, including the Dream Team, believe would spoil the proposed Trinity Park.
In addition to calling for the Dallas City Council to sever its agreement with the North Texas Tollway Authority with regard to the road, freeing the city to build a lower-speed thoroughfare that serves the park, the AIA has also called for greater oversight as the road is discussed further.
"We support further development and implementation of the Dream Team recommendations and strongly advocate for an oversight body comprised of Dream Team members, local design organizations (including AIA Dallas) and private citizens to ensure that the vision of the Dream Team is faithfully reflected in the design and execution of a Great Trinity Park Parkway," the organization said.
Bullis said it's important to not lean too heavily on engineers when thinking about the potential Trinity park.
"Engineers are good at designing roads. They're not good at designing world-class parks. You turn an engineer loose and they're going to give you the best road they can design, but they're not sensitive to the other issues," Bullis said.
Getting the NTTA out of the process is essential to getting things right this time, Bullis says, because until that happens it's impossible to know how much modification to its environmental impact study for the tollway the Army Corps of Engineers will allow.
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"If the NTTA goes away, is that a start-over?" Bullis said. "We don't know the answer to that question. We've asked people who should know the answer and we keep coming back with a bit of mystery about the EIS process. We think that the road is broken because the NTTA is involved. NTTA triggers a 55-mile-an-hour speed limit, it triggers safety protections for the higher speeds, it triggers the type of roadway that we don't support."
The Federal Highway Administration told the Morning News Wednesday that it can't say anything about any potential modifications until it sees them.
"We can't speculate on what, if any, actions the FHWA would take until a project modification has been formally presented for our review by the project's sponsors," FHWA spokesman Doug Hecox said.
A piece of this thing could be sorted out today at a specially called all-toll road Dallas City council meeting. So far, the only item up for a vote on the agenda is a resolution calling for studying how to implement the Dream Team's recommendations. Not, you know, actually implementing the recommendations.