Getcher Program Here: An Inside Baseball Report on Maneuvering Behind the Trinity Road

Well thank goodness Friday has finally arrived so we can have a little privacy here on the lawn, without all those damned readers butting in. Normally when they're around I don't like to do inside baseball, because, you know, it just makes them get all anxious and nattery. Then that guy who uses my name in his name starts raving, and then we have to ring for the health aides. But today it's just you and me, so I have some way inside baseball for us.

I have been saying here for the last couple of months that the proponents of the Trinity River Toll Road think they are closing in on victory, and they're trying to everything in order to make sure nothing stops them at the final gate. I'm sure that's at least a major factor in the decision of the Dallas Citizens Council, which possibly should not be unfairly associated with anti-integration "white citizens councils" of yore, to form a political action committee and pump cash into next May's Dallas City Council elections a la Karl Rove and Citizens United at the national level.

I also made the statement and raised the question: They already own all but three seats on the 15-member body and one of those they don't own is not up for grabs, so why would the Citizens Council be so intent on buying up the last two? OK, a few chords on the Inside Baseball Hammond organ: This is where we take our seats in the bleachers at Inside Park. Peanuts, please.

Imagine my inside baseball shock last week when I learned that former Dallas-100-years-ago council member and full-time toll road advocate and lobbyist Craig Holcomb was sending emails to current council members informing them he had been named the "community advocate" for the state highway department's rebuilding of the downtown freeway interchanges that we so unfondly call "The Mixmaster."

Whose community?

Allow me to unwind: The proposed toll road -- proposed but not built for roughly 15 years because of issues -- is supposed to be built out between the levees in the unprotected floodwater passageway that is designed, in fact, to fill up with water twice a year during our spring and fall monsoon seasons. Why would anyone propose building a huge freeway almost on top of the river cutting off access to the city's only waterfront and then put it in a place where it's going to be underwater twice a year?

Yup. That's why 15 years have passed.

The Citizens Council, which is sort of a boys club for downtown landowners and big public works construction companies, wants it done no matter what. The opponents of the road have lulled themselves into a false sense of security because they know the road is two billion bucks over budget. What they're not thinking about is this: What's two billion bucks between friends?

The two billion looks like a lot when you're the taxpayer out of whose pocket it must come, but when you're the construction company into whose pocket it's going to go or the landowner whose property will benefit, a couple billion looks pretty sweet. But in this strapped public sector environment, where does all that public money come from, really?

It comes out of other stuff. In this case, the toll road project must suck almost all of that two billion out of critical highway projects like rebuilding the Mixmaster. Which is crazy. All of the traffic numbers show that rebuilding existing downtown interchanges is far and away the biggest buck-bang we can hope for in terms of reducing congestion. The toll road is a total waste for reducing congestion. The reason the Citizens Council is so intent on getting its ducks in a row on the toll road is because half the time ducks will be the only ones able to use it.

Aha. Here is where we come back to the inside baseball pitching rotation. On the current 15-member City Council, 13 members are pitchers the Citizens Council pro-toll-road lobby can count on to throw home runs every time the Citizens Council is at bat. How does a pitcher throw guaranteed home-runs? Practice, practice, practice.

But three members - Sandy Greyson of North Dallas, Scott Griggs of North Oak Cliff and Angela Hunt of East Dallas -- have been vicious, mean, awful, cruel, relentless throwers of dangerous smokin' steeeeeeeRIKES! They have been the only ones in the past to catch the toll roaders at their game, which is to use long-range public works planning processes to divert money out of the Mixmaster project, formerly called "Project Pegasus."

In the last year it has become evident to inside baseball fans that the highway department, knowing full well that the Mixmaster is the right project and the toll road the wrong one, intends to get Project Pegasus done one piece at a time without ever announcing that's what it's doing. But doing that, you see, would stop the huge sucking sound of money being drained off to pay for the toll road.

The not-necessarily-white Dallas Citizens Council needs to accomplish two ends. It needs to shut up the analysis and criticism coming from the three strike-out pitchers on the council. It needs to hear every single thing the highway department is up to before it's up to it and keep some kind of evil eye on them in the process.

They can't do anything about Greyson. She's running unopposed for re-election next May. In Grigg's district they will pump money into the campaign of his opponent Delia Jasso. She may not be able to throw home-runs for them, but they can count on her to just sort of let the ball dribble out of her hand and hit her own toe four times in a row for a nice walk. In Hunt's district, they will fund Bobby Abtahi, who will help them put it waaaay out of the park (crowd-roar sound effect) every single time at bat.

The second part, the listener and evil eye? You got it. Mr. Holcomb.

I have always liked and respected Holcomb. He's a good guy from Old East Dallas. Used to hold Hunt's chair on the council a long time ago when he and I were young. I asked him this week if he would object to being called an advocate for the toll road.

"I am not trying to hide that or back away from that," he said.

Hope not. He conceded to me, for example, that he was part of the lobbying process that persuaded former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to stick a rider on a defense spending bill exempting the toll road project from important federal environmental reviews. Actually, in order to get that done they had to exempt the whole North Texas portion of the river. So, yeah, from here on out we've got the only river in America not covered by key federal environmental reviews. Ain't we proud?

The post to which Holcomb has been appointed, he said, is strictly uncompensated and volunteer. "As far as I can tell it is to have a private citizen who gets lots of briefings on it who can say, 'Oh, this doesn't make sense,' and monitor public involvement and make sure public involvement occurs."

He denied that the Mixmaster rebuild, which he is calling "Project Horseshoe" (go figure), has any connection with the toll road project. "Project Horseshoe really has nothing to do with the parkway or toll road." (They call the toll road a "parkway." Go figure some more.)

Yeah. Except for the money.

I am straining straining straining here not to fall back on that terribly tired worn-out cliché about foxes and henhouses. I refuse to say that by getting Holcomb appointed as some kind of special citizen big-ears on the Mixmaster Project, the Citizens Council boys have succeeded in providing the fox with a bed, shower and free WiFi inside the henhouse. I will not say that.

I did ask him who appointed him as our public advocate. I'm public. Aren't you? Do you remember us being asked?

He said he wasn't sure. It wasn't the highway department. He said it was some highway institute or something or other. Yeah, well, you know: Here's your highway institute. I think I'm going to have my own "highway institute" appoint me as the public advocate to attend all Dallas Citizens Council executive committee meetings. Umm, second thought, maybe not. You have to worry those stories about initiation rights and microchips could be true.

Anyway, that's inside baseball for today. Any private use or rebroadcast of this game is strictly OK, but we'll tell you right now nobody will watch it except for a few stragglers on Fridays.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze