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Former Trinity Toll Road Apologist Says He's Sorry He Was Duped by Bad Traffic Folks

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People have been apologizing and telling me I was right all along about the Trinity River toll road -- not a thing I enjoy. I really don't need or want people to offer me apologies, but I can think of something else to do with them.

This week, Eric Celeste had a really interesting piece on D Magazine's Frontburner blog saying that Harvard professor Alex Krieger plans to come to town this week to apologize to the whole city for his part in what became of former Mayor Laura Miller's so-called "Balanced Vision Plan" for the river. Krieger, who will be here for an event Friday, told Celeste he thought the road they were talking about back when he was working for Miller on Balanced Vision was just a little "parkway," not a big fat expressway.

"Think about the term 'parkway,'" he told Celeste. "A parkway creates pleasure drives to connect open spaces and park spaces."

See also: How D Magazine's Wick Allison Changed His Mind on the Trinity Parkway

Only after Krieger had signed off on the Balanced Vision Plan, he told Celeste, did he realize he had been duped and that the "traffic folks" were using his imprimatur to foist a highway on the river where none had been authorized by voters.

"We were all duped a bit," Krieger says. "It's clear now that the traffic folks nodded as we showed them the Balanced Vision Plan, but they were just waiting for us to get out of town."

"The traffic folks." Hmm. A bit vague. Krieger's memory is not exactly my memory here. I do remember that Miller, when she became mayor in 2002 -- four years after voters had authorized the Trinity River project -- said she found out the little parkway passed by voters had morphed into a big highway and she was going to put a stop to it. Specifically she said that the park plan passed by voters, with sailboats on lakes, had turned into a road project while voters' backs were turned.

She brought Krieger to town with another guy named Bill Eager to help her come up with a plan that would tame the road. They all drew lovely pictures together of a better world, but not long after Krieger and Eager left town, the road was a bigger, fatter, louder, more exhaust-spewing monster than ever. Krieger told Celeste that he will tell Dallas this Friday he got played.

That will be a good thing.

My issue would be this. In May of 2007, I told you, Dear Reader, assuming you knew how to read that long ago, that Krieger knew back then he had been played. That was not long before a citywide referendum to get the toll road out from the middle of the park plan. It failed. That year Krieger had been back to town to check on his project. On that visit he saw plainly -- seven years ago and right before the election -- that his so-called parkway had turned into a monster.

He wrote to Miller then, saying, "what concerned me most was that the engineering of the road was proceeding as if it were a great big interstate highway instead of a parkway and that there was absolutely no evidence of concern for the 'context sensitive design' that was promised as part of the balanced vision plan."

Miller was campaigning hard against the referendum, which had been brought about by then council member Angela Hunt. Miller was all over town touting Krieger's authorship to show that the toll road was even approved by a Harvard guy.

Hunt filed an open records request for emails about the toll road. When she got them she found Krieger's email to Miller expressing his chagrin at being duped. Seven years ago. Before the election.

When I published the email here, it promised to be a true catalyst and change-agent in the referendum. In hindsight Krieger's true opinion, had he been willing to stick it, could have tipped the scales against the toll road in what turned out to be a narrow election. Instead the toll road won.

Krieger, who like Eager was a paid consultant here, did not stick by his email. Instead he accused me and Hunt of being irresponsible, word-twisting, mis-characterizers. First, in an email from Miller to her employee, Krieger, she fed him his lines: "The Dallas Observer blog ... has a giant mischaracterization of my position on the Trinity Parkway. Below is my response, which will be posted shortly. Let's get the real story out. Alex and Bill, feel free to chime in via an op-ed piece in The Dallas Morning News, with a copy of it to the Dallas Observer and D Magazine in the form of a letter. I'm ready to fight for the integrity of the good work that was done by all."

Next and almost immediately, Krieger obediently shipped off communiques, including one to my editors here at the Observer in which he said, "I was astounded at the misuse of my email to Mayor Miller regarding the Trinity River Parkway. It seems to me an irresponsible twisting of a position on behalf of a cause I do not share, rather than a 'smoking gun.'

"The note to Mayor Miller was to urge her full speed in advancing the Balanced Vision Plan -- the product of so intense and heartfelt a community consensus-arriving effort. I am outraged that yesterday's blog suggested otherwise."

Astounded and outraged.

Now, I should be plain about the effect this kind of communication has on my employment here at the Observer. I don't remember the exact words, but I do recall my editors mumbling something in passing like, "Harvard dude says he meant the opposite of what he said in that email to Miller. Umm, whaddya got for us tomorrow?"

The entire thrust of political consultant Carol Reed's admittedly clever campaign against the referendum was the characterization of anti-toll-road activists as bad people. Wackos. People who would cost the city hundreds of millions in federal aid. Since then all of those arguments about money have been thoroughly debunked and exposed as untruths, hence the apology-fest of late.

In the meantime I actually don't mind being mischaracterized as a mischaracterizer. It's probably proof I'm doing my job. But the mischaracterization of Hunt does bother me.

Clearly she was doing her job as a public servant, in a particularly brave fashion, under tough circumstances. We see now that she was right. Even Krieger sees that Hunt was right and Miller was wrong, according to what he told Celeste.

In retrospect, if anybody has any spare apologies lying around, I wish they would consider not burdening me with them. I pretend to accept them, but I don't really keep them in my pocket very long. Instead, what about offering a little mea culpa to Hunt instead? And maybe in the process a little more clarity on exactly when Professor Krieger saw the light? For grins, at least, if not also for history's sake.

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