Yesterday on The Dallas Morning News transportation and editorial blogs, Rodger Jones, an editorial writer, casually passed on a bit of information -- as if it were a sort of minor tid-bit -- gleaned from a recent meeting of the editorial board with Texas Department of Transportation Regional Engineer Bill Hale. Which is: Apparently, the proposed Trinity River toll road is not inextricably linked after all with funding for Project Pegasus, a huge state and federal program aimed at relieving congestion in the city's downtown "mixmaster" freeway interchange.
Jones's casual presentation of this fact avoided any mention of what it means about his own newspaper. It means The Dallas Morning News editorial page, abetted by Mr. Hale, lied repeatedly to voters before the 2007 toll road referendum.
The editorial page insisted, again and again, that if referendum voters rejected the toll road alignment between the Trinity River flood control levees, all state and federal assistance with other pressing downtown congestion problems would disappear. Pegasus would die.
First, read this from Jones yesterday.
"One interesting thing I learned from our sit-down with Hale and others from the TxDOT district: Many people had been under the impression that the Pegasus project could only be pulled off if the Trinity toll road were done first to provide a bypass for traffic relief. Not so, said Hale."
He goes on: "Engineers would find a workaround through the heart of the city. 'It would be like during the High Five,' said Bob Brown, deputy district engineer. 'We would try to do most of the work adjacent to existing lanes so we could keep traffic moving.'
"Both Central Expressway and LBJ remained open during most of the High Five interchange project where two come together. It wasn't pretty, but traffic moved."
Now read these:
On September 27, 2007, The News's editorial page warned voters: "The Trinity toll road would carry up to 100,000 cars per day, and it's vital to Project Pegasus, a plan to redesign downtown interchanges and get traffic moving."
On October 3, 2007, the editorial page said, "The Trinity toll road would carry up to 100,000 cars per day and is essential to the Project Pegasus plan to redesign downtown interchanges to ease traffic gridlock. Pegasus funding could be lost if the toll road isn't built, and traffic around downtown would continue to be maddening and intolerable."
On October 21, 2007, the editorial page said, "The Trinity toll road is essential to Project Pegasus, the planned rebuild of the downtown Canyon and its Mixmaster interchange."
I suppose The News could claim that it was misled all that time by people like Craig Holcomb, a former city council member who has spearheaded the lobbying for the toll road. And I suppose Holcomb could claim he was misled by Hale.
As recently as March 31, 2009, Holcomb told News readers in an op-ed piece, "Discussing Pegasus last week, Bill Hale of the Texas Department of Transportation, told me, 'You can't do anything else to relieve the traffic without additional lanes somewhere. We need the Trinity Parkway to do that.'"
But I don't understand how The News thinks it can get away with revealing new information about the toll road -- now an almost daily dribble of fact exposing everything it has told readers about the road as untrue -- and never ever admit that readers were misled.
The issue is especially poignant for me, since the editorial page has always been so quick to call city council member Angela Hunt a liar for having said things that now turn out to be ... well ... in fact ...
Even after the heat of battle in the 2007 referendum had passed, the editorial page of The News has continued to exhibit a special penchant for calling Hunt a liar. As recently as March 25, 2009, the page said, "Hunt was guilty of airing a misleading TV commercial and of making claims about the Pegasus road project that proved to be flat-out false."
But according to Rodger Jones, the editorialists at The News now know from Bill Hale himself that the claims Hunt was making -- that construction and financing of Pegasus are not dependent on the toll road -- have proved to be flat out true.
I think we have to assume this is the paper's strategy: It has blown up in our faces. We have been caught in a double-bind, with our pants both down and on fire. Maybe we can feed the information out to readers a morsel at a time and hope they don't remember what we said before. I don't think it will work.
Even if readers don't remember all the details, they're going to notice the pants.
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