Mike Rawlings, Philip Kingston and the Trinity Toll Road, Somebody's Either Wrong or Full of It

Late Friday afternoon, the Federal Highway Administration issued its record of decision (ROD) for the Trinity toll road.

As everybody anywhere knows, a ROD is the FHWA's final step in a process under the NEPA that begins with an NOI, a draft EIS, final EIS and then ROD.

We SYN (shit you not).

What the ROD is in physical terms is a 190-page slog, unfit to be read in full by anybody but masochists. There was one line, though, that stuck out because it again confirmed one of the hardest facts for toll road supporters to argue around.

"This decision selects the Alternative 3C as the only practicable alternative [for the building of the road]," the ROD says.

Alternative 3C is more commonly known as that big freakin' toll road between the Trinity River levees that keeps grinding on no matter what. So the highway administration says, "well all-righty then, if you want."

For the increasingly small sample of the Dallas political community that supports the building of a toll road between the Trinity levees, "we don't know what the road looks like" and "I support the Balanced Vision Plan" have become mantras. Figuring out what these statements mean, especially when there's only been one version of the road approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, and now the FHWA, is difficult.

The approved version of the road has already been thoroughly shown by the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects to be incompatible with the Balanced Vision Plan -- the thing former Mayor Laura Miller shepherded 2003 as a compromise aimed to please those who wanted parks between the levees and those who wanted the road -- the compromise being a road today and parks tomorrow.

"Alternative 3C, as currently proposed by the NTTA, cannot be considered to be the same -- in spirit or in detail -- as the Trinity Parkway of the Balanced Vision Plan," the AIA says.

Again, allow us to translate: "Hey, you said pretty parkway, not big-ass toll road from the North Texas Tollway Authority! WTF?"

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings disagrees.

"There may be a way to build a road that complies with 3C and fits the Balanced Vision Plan," he says. "3C is the maximum that we could build if we can afford it. The Balanced Vision Plan was and is what we want to build. They are not incompatible. This is why we convened the 'dream team.'"

The dream team is a group of specialists Rawlings picked to find ways to make the road not conflict with park.

Philip Kingston, City Council member and staunch opponent of the toll road, doesn't like any plan that includes a road between the levees, but says that even for those who say they support the Balanced Vision Plan, Rawlings comments don't make sense.

"If you look at the Balanced Vision Plan and you look at 3C, they're nothing alike, they're completely dissimilar. It's not just that they're dissimilar, it's that they are completely incompatible," he says. "You can look at the schematics and see what the road looks like; to say that there's anything that can be changed substantially on that is just wrong. If [the changes] have any hydrodynamic effect it would have to go all the way back through permitting."

The mayor says the designs shown by 3C are not finished products.

"We know what a potential road looks like. But what is on the website are engineering specs," Rawlings says. "The road right now is 30 percent designed. Most of that 30 percent was spent on designing the bench, not the road itself. Therefore, we really do not know what the road looks like in terms of landscaping, ramps, median, etc."

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