The Trinity River toll road thing has the downtown old boys so rattled they don’t even bother to cover their traces. Two weeks ago I heard from my snitches that the boys and their hired spear-carriers -- Carol Reed, Tom Leppert and Ron "I’m For Hire" Kirk -- had settled on a two-prong strategy:
1) Marginalize the TrinityVote people who oppose putting a toll road between the flood control levees downtown by saying it’s just Angela Hunt and Jim Schutze, and 2) hit the idea hard that putting the toll road between the flood control levees is the only way to solve congestion and air pollution issues downtown.
Three days after I hear it – count 'em, three days later – I receive a call from D, which has been almost the official strap-on organ of the toll road boys. Hey, Jim. We were just thinking how important you are, and, golly, we thought we’d like to do a profile of you. The very next day The Dallas Morning News starts trying to reach me. Hey, Jim. We were just thinking how important you are, and we’d like to do a profile of you.
Oh, yeah. Right. That happens all the time. You guys do profiles of Dallas Observer columnists. I remember a time when Hank Tatum told me that a person at The Dallas Morning News who was caught with a copy of the Observer on his desk was “not serious about his career.” Now, gosh and shucks, I’m a profile. Very, very surprising. In fact, I would say it is surprising and a half.
When I tried to do my shy ingenue act (admittedly an ugly thing), they both said exactly what I would have said as a reporter: Hey, pal, we’re doin’ the profile anyhow whether youse cooperates or not, so maybe youse better think it over.
Sure. I have made myself a partisan in this thing, and I have no right to hide behind the veil of journalistic neutrality. I ain’t neutral. The veil won’t cover my salient feature. In the interest of the public discourse, I shall expose myself to them.
But then Sunday morning here comes Prong Two: a front-page story in The News by Bruce Tomaso all about how putting the toll road between the flood control levees is the only way to cure the city’s air and traffic woes, and “putting the toll road elsewhere … would almost surely increase its costs by hundreds of millions of dollars.”
In order to do Prong Two, Tomaso has to present as absolute fact -- unquestioned gospel -- several completely absurd lies that the levee ‘tweeners, especially Kirk, have been spouting in debates and appearances.
One is that the only alternative route is Industrial Boulevard. That’s completely crazy. If you go back to the original traffic studies, this reliever route idea is all about moving suburbanites and regional truck traffic. It’s a regional road. What makes real sense is putting it way out in the region where it belongs, away from downtown.
But it’s also absurd to assert that putting it on Industrial would be more expensive. Did Tomaso not notice that no one knows what it will cost to put it between the levees? There are no estimates for that.
The only existing estimates were for putting it up on the levees, thereby getting it out of the floodplain for free. Since then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said the road can’t be put on the levees. It will have to have its own autonomous flood protection system.
How? On bridges? On benches? Nobody has whispered what this huge new cost will be? Tomaso could have asked somebody what they know about the cost of the ‘tween route. But he did not ask, did he? Right. He knew better than to ask. That might have messed up Prong Two.
The second lie, baldly asserted by Tomaso, is that putting the road outside the levees would make all the existing money for the road go away. Why? Who ever said that? No one.
The North Texas Tollway Authority is willing to pay hundreds of millions more for this road than they can ever earn back from tolls, we are told, if it goes between the levees. But not one nickel if it goes outside?
Why on Earth?
Tomaso even asserted that the city bond money voted for the parkway in 1998 would be “redirected” by the city council if the council doesn’t get to build a toll road between the levees. No, Bruce, that would be illegal. The $84 million approved by voters for a parkway in 1998 can’t be taken away, even if the city council is real real miffed with the voters after the votes are counted in the November referendum.
The biggest lie? That building a toll road between the levees will help pollution problems. The original traffic studies found what common sense would dictate: Building a new highway downtown will bring more vehicles downtown and make pollution worse.
Car pollution comes from cars. Cars come from roads. More roads means more cars means more pollution. Uh, what are we missing here, Bruce?
This kind of Dallas Morning News story always floors me, not for what is said so much as for the questions not asked. Who said the only other route was Industrial? But if a cost comparison is to be made with Industrial, what is the cost estimate for putting it between the levees? Doesn’t a comparison require two sides? (Be careful, Bruce: Don’t use the estimate for putting it on top of the levees as an estimate for putting it between them. You need a new estimate. You need to ask.)
Here’s a big one that keeps coming up. Tom Leppert and Mitchell Rasansky keep saying the city’s only cost for the ‘tween route will be the $84 million in bond money. They say everybody else -- the state, the feds, the toll authority -- will have to pay for any cost above that amount. Not us. We’re capped at $84 million.
But then they say if the road goes outside the levees, the city will have to pick up huge new costs. Why? If we’re only in it for $84 million between the levees, why are we in it for more than that outside the levees? Makes no sense.
And then back to the prongs. Carol Reed and company cook up two prongs on Friday. Monday morning both D and The News are hard at work on the pronging. Pretty amazing. They don’t even have the decency to fake it any more. It’s like Carol Reed runs the The News's city desk now. And D? Well, what can I say?
You know, marginalizing me is easy. It’s sort of like Frenchifying a Frenchman. I’m already there. If I had a bumper sticker, it would be, “Marginal and Proud!”
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But what they want to do with Hunt is bitchify her -- paint her as the new Laura Miller.
Bitchifying Laura was one thing. Sort of like Frenchifying a Frenchman. Her bumper sticker was “Bitch and Proud!” for which I always greatly admired her.
But not Hunt. She has been a consistently gracious player from the beginning of this thing. I think marginalizing her will backfire. I hope they go for it.
Yeah, well, anyway. See you in the funny papers, I guess. --Jim Schutze