Mirror, Mirror

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Tell me about it. I have wrangled with TxDOT for this list for years now. When they turned me down, they said it had something to do with proprietary bidding information. They told Carona they couldn't give him the list of bad bridges because terrorists might see it and find out which bridges would be easy to knock down.

Guess what we found out when the list of deficient bridges leaked after the Minnesota collapse? Of the three major freeway bridges the city wants to replace over the Trinity downtown, only one was on the list of deficient bridges, and that deficiency was something that could be fixed with a repair, not a replacement. So the story that all of them need to be replaced is a lie.

I called and e-mailed TxDOT many times this week for comment. Now they say they're too busy with requests for lists of falling-down bridges to reply to my request.

The lie here involves hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money. It's the kind of lie that killed those people in Minnesota. The bridges that should be replaced are not replaced, because people lie and say the money should be spent instead on something they want for themselves—like signature bridges in downtown Dallas.

Most people in Dallas probably do want to see the Trinity River project get done. But most people thought when they voted for it in 1998 that the project was about the parks and lakes that the project's boosters showed in TV ads. The local clan that owns The Dallas Morning News—the Decherd-Moroney families—want the other version, the one with a big nasty toll road up the middle of the park and new suspension bridges over the river to make room for the toll road, none of which anybody ever voted for.

That stuff—the toll road and the bridges—can't be paid for out of normal federal or state appropriations, because it fails to meet any of the standards set by Congress for legitimate transportation projects. The road won't reduce enough congestion downtown, and the bridges are totally unneeded.

Hence, the slippery work-around. The earmarks. Under the rules, members of Congress can dish out earmark money pretty much for whatever they like.

What gets me so badly about the Morning News editorial page on this topic is that I happen to know that they happen to know better. Here's the proof: Last September 20 the News declared in an editorial headline: "Long road to recovery Katrina doesn't have to sink us in debt."

The way to fix up New Orleans and the rest of the country, the editorial page suggested, was by cutting back on earmarks. The page even went on to say: "Several that are dear to Dallas' heart, such as funds for signature bridges across the Trinity River, should be included. This would be one more way Dallas can extend the right hand of fellowship to its neighbors."

Wow. So they did know the Trinity bridges were being built with earmarks. They did know that's why there isn't enough money for legitimate projects. And they do think it's wrong.

The very next day, on September 21, 2006, the same page retracted the editorial and apologized for having made any suggestion that Congress or anyone should re-examine the Trinity bridges: "It is now apparent to us that this was a poor example to cite," the skin-back editorial said. "They and the Trinity project will be a huge economic engine for the revitalization of downtown, which supplies the oxygen for much of the rest of North Texas. They are critical to resolving this area's transportation challenges and to enhancing our most important waterway. There are other ways Congress can find the money to pay for the catastrophe wrought by Katrina without deepening the federal debt or raising taxes."

I called Keven Ann Willey, the Morning News editorial page editor, after the second editorial appeared, because I know her a little. She said, "The publisher was out of town, frankly, and had not been aware of our thinking or our intent on this. When the publisher saw the editorial, he wasn't particularly happy with it, shall we say."

Look, I'm not exactly sure where this leaves us. I know it means you can't blame earmarks on Democrats. If there was ever a rich, ultra-conservative Republican hog-fest to talk about, it's the Trinity River project in Dallas.

But it doesn't mean Democrats don't do it too. Of course they do. I think it means we all do. I think it means if we really want to get a look at the people responsible for those deaths in Minnesota, we all need to go look in our mirrors.

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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

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