Hiking and Biking Trails Along the Trinity Blocked by Evil Ghosts of Toll Roads Past

Oh, tinfoil hat, all that stuff about how I'm paranoid, go ahead, say it, get it out of your system. I've got to be ready for it by now, right? But let me tell you something: There's a big difference between paranoia and clairvoyance.

And in the matter of the Trinity River toll road, I can actually see ghosts. No, really. I can see the way in which the ghost of the highway along the river -- not a stick of it built after 15 years because it's such a dumb idea -- is already there. It's sitting right there along the river, the ghost of it, hunkered down, screwing up and blocking every good thing the city could accomplish along the river like a damn voodoo haint.

See also: Where's that Trinity Trail Council Approved a Year Ago? Still Buried Under City Hall's Big Lie.

Hear me out. Big news in the city's only daily newspaper today is a groundbreaking for construction of the segment of walk and bike trail that will link existing trails near downtown to trails around White Rock Lake. When the new section of trail is complete a couple years from now, it will create a vast loop of trail tying together an entire bike-able, walkable region of the city.

That's not just biking and walking: It's a whole new way of living. You will be able literally to live, work, shop for groceries and head out to the lake without ever firing up your stinkpot.

Guess what. There is an entire loop of paved modern trail at the other end of town, in southern Dallas, meandering around small lakes and wild grasslands. In a recent chat with City Manager Mary Suhm, she admonished me to get down there on my own bike and ride it, which she had done recently. She said it was thrilling. I still have not done it. But everybody who has biked the Great Trinity Trail tells me it can be a truly exalting experience.

So where's my ghost? Right between the Katy Trail and those recently completed paved trails to the south. Right where the old guard troglodytes still insist they're going to build that stupid underwater toll road. What do I mean? Hey, listen, this is simple. You can see the ghost, too. Just focus.

Last year, City Council members Scott Griggs and Angela Hunt were joined by Mayor Mike Rawlings in setting aside $6.4 million in discretionary bond-funded construction money for a 4.5-mile, 16-foot-wide paved trail to link Sylvan Avenue to the Santa Fe Trestle Trail in Moore Park. Everybody hailed it at the time as the crown jewel, the last detail, the missing link between trails to the north and trails to the south.

When they sold us the Trinity River project in 1998, then Mayor Ron Kirk promised its greatest value would be in tying together the northern and southern hemispheres of the city, binding wounds inflicted on the city's soul by a century and a half of racial segregation. That's a somber vow. If you're going to make that kind of promise, you better not turn out to be a total dildo about it.

Yeah, well, welcome to Dildo City. As we learned last week, the city staff won't do it. Just won't build it. Got the money. Got the go-ahead. Will not do it.

They gave some totally whacked-out reason for not doing it, of course. Hunt and Griggs had deliberately designed the trail to use a service-road right-of-way that's already approved, that's already there, so it won't require some massive federal approval process. So the staff told the council the trail couldn't be done because city employees driving great big service vehicles would probably run over and kill bicyclists and pedestrians. They never mentioned the possibility of a training session for their employees where the main lesson would be: "DO NOT RUN OVER AND KILL PEOPLE." Whatever. They just won't do it.

So is that because the trail would get in the way of the proposed toll road? No, it's the opposite. It's because it wouldn't get in the way.

OK, hats on, everyone, please. Just for a second. You need to see how the haint works. I checked myself on it this morning with Griggs, because he's a very smart and sane person. Griggs said the problem with the trail he and Hunt wanted to create is that it would not get in the way of the toll road. In fact, it would decouple recreational uses from the toll road.

"The reason they're stalling it," he said, "is that completion of it would prove that you can have recreational amenities on that portion of the Trinity without the toll road."

Wait. It actually makes sense. I promise. From the beginning, the sponsors of the toll road have claimed that the road itself is the essential ingredient for everything else. For example, they said we had to build the toll road so we'd have it as a detour while the existing freeways downtown were rebuilt. We now know that idea is complete bullshit. Even the toll-roaders have given up on it, saying instead that we should just build the toll road and forget about fixing the major freeways.

But they still insist that all of the recreational amenities they promised, lakes and trails and solar-powered water taxis for God's sake, depend on construction of the toll road. Something to do with digging out dirt over here for the toll road and piling it up over there for parks. Or, I don't know, maybe the other way around. Anyway, bullshit again. Hunt and Griggs found a way to achieve a huge recreational home-run along the river downtown that was entirely independent of the toll road. Forget the toll road. Screw the toll road. Which is just what the toll-roaders fear.

You can take your hat off now, by the way. Please try not to crinkle it. They will not build that final segment of trail through downtown because doing it would kill the story-line about everything depending on the toll road. Once people figure out they already have access to a vast wilderness-like experience at the heart of the city, they're not only going to question the need for the toll road. They're going to start saying, "Keep that damned thing away from my trail."

The toll-roaders know that. They see it coming. That's why they're threatening to run over bikers with bulldozers. The one thing they promised us -- a recreational bond between north and south, is the one thing they do not want to see happen. Not unless, until and after they get their toll road.

This is what I like about real estate. You can be all cool and clandestine and sneaky about it, but after a while it's just there, on the map, part of the planet. Or not. This is a case of not. Look at what's not there -- this incredibly easy, already paid for, already authorized ultimate link that would finally deliver on solemn promises made to us in two elections. It's not there. It's not going to be there.

The absence of that linking trail is the ghost, the haint, the proof that the Trinity River toll road haunts every decision the city makes about the river. OK turn the lights back on. You can take your hands off the Ouija board now.

You saw it, right? Just for a second? Last thing to tell you. I don't want to scare anybody. But when it's not downtown screwing up the river, guess where that ghost lives. Yup. Under your bed.

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