Good News About the Trinity Toll Road: Eventually, We All Die

At some point during last evening's North Texas Tollway Authority/Texas Department of Transportation Incredibly Boring Event, I realized I was having almost as much fun seeing all the same old pro-toll road partisans again as I was running into my fellow usual-suspect road-haters.

These things have become high school reunions. You shake hands and say, "Still out here pimping for Alternative 3C, eh? Well what ever happened with your aneurism?"

Last night's shindig was one of those legally required public hearings where they do one PowerPoint presentation after another, kind of like a brutal fraternity hazing event to see how many old people they can make fall out of their chairs. I was wide awake, my friends, even though I did have to depart sort of suddenly when I felt a possible coma coming on. Robert Wilonsky left at the same time.

Some of us have been meeting at these Trinity River project deals since 1997. I looked at the modest crowd gathered in the very gloomy old convention arena -- now a mere mass somewhere in the bowels of the hugely metastasized Dallas Convention Center -- and tried to count how many of the people present had been in elementary school when this all started. Too many. Gave up.

I was sitting next to Wilonsky, trying to give him pointers on how to cover a news event. He whispered to me, "I saw the Jackson Five here." The mind wanders.

When a public debate on a single issue runs this long, the people on both sides really get to know each other over time. Inevitably, familiarity begins to breed respect. You know how they think over on that side of the aisle. It's just how they are. They can't change their stripes, poor dear things.

When Dallas Chamber President Jim Oberwetter spoke in favor of the road -- well, that would be Ambassador James C. Oberwetter now, actually -- I thought to myself, "That was a nice little talk, Jim."

Nobody can make a more gracious speech than Oberwetter in favor of building a huge, stinking, toxin-spewing, unneeded, nightmare expressway on top of the river that is the city's only significant natural geographic feature. I mean it.

It's sort of awkward having Wilonsky over on the other side of the newspaper fence. He's talking to me at one point, and then he runs over and chats up Michael A. Lindenberger, who's writing the main coverage for the paper where Robert now works, called The Dallas Morning News. Well, see, Lindenberger and I don't really speak, so Robert running back and forth puts us both in an awkward position where we have to look at Robert but also at our shoes. Robert, shoes, Robert, shoes.

Oh, well. That's sort of high school, too, isn't it? It's kind of fun.

I was cheered and heartened to see that Lindenberger got it all wrong in his story this morning, as per usual. He said the road opponents merely trotted out their same tired old re-tread arguments against the road, which is of course and as we would expect, total bullshit. Seeing how wrong he got it made me feel like Tevye. I wanted to begin belting out, "Tradition!"

Council members Sandy Greyson, Scott Griggs and Angela Hunt (whom I list alphabetically but not in order of their appearance) all raised a new case against the road -- it may even be the killer-app of all anti-road arguments -- something I also treat in my column in this week's newspaper, which will go online later today. There's a better, cheaper, more effective way to reduce congestion downtown -- fixing the freeways we already have.

The big frisson going around the room last night was about the gas drilling map that Unfair Park has already outted to you this morning, showing that the city may grant drilling rights to a gas-fracking company for wells in the greenbelt along the Trinity River.

Randy Lee Loftis has a good quote in a Morning News story this morning from longtime gas person David Biegler saying basically that gas wells along the Trinity will be no worse than garbage dumps, which Biegler apparently believes are what line the river now. Ah, another Park Cities Boy Scout.

We could get all in a lather. We could talk about the volumes it speaks. But, you know, really, that's just how they are over on that side, isn't it? I didn't see Biegler last night. I wonder if he's stayed in shape. I bet he has.

It's not over. In fact, after last night -- too late to change my column in the paper -- I even decided the column is a bit too pessimistic. In it I say I think the road may get done after all. Now I'm thinking maybe not.

But here's what I really think. At some point in the ultimate future, this thing will be resolved for most of us, not because the question of the road will be settled, but because most of us will be dead.

And how sad that will be, because then we won't ever see each other again. I'll never see get to see Oberwetter or Biegler again, unless I can get my hands on a weekend pass and an asbestos suit. And then, of course, Greyson, Griggs, Hunt and I will be so busy anyway with harp class and the flying lessons. I guess nothing is forever.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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