Rasansky Exposes Potential Need for Gigantic Wall to Improve Levee System, Won't Support Toll Road If Funding Isn't There

To those paying close attention, council member Mitchell Rasansky has indicated over the past couple weeks that his support for the Trinity Turnpike is diminishing, and he took another step toward joining Angela Hunt in opposition of the road at this morning's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee meeting.

After previously pressing about the challenges faced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and questioning the timing related to the 34 areas of the levee system recently rated by the corps as "unacceptable," Rasansky is now urging city staff to provide the city council with a detailed budget analysis of the toll road.

"Let me tell you, if I do not see that we're going to have the funds to build the tollway -- I am only one of 15 -- I am not going to support this at all," he said.

Rasansky also discussed the potential need for a 22-mile-long wall, which he claimed could cost $1 billion. The slurry wall, which is a reinforced-concrete diaphragm wall, is the worst-case scenario that could be required regarding the levee improvements cited by the corps.

Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan stressed that the wall is not an option at this point and said the corps hasn't indicated that it will be necessary.

"It's not real at this point," she said. "And I don't want to alarm anyone -- it's just erroneous to be talking ... it's just such a remote possibility. When you look at the soils that are out there, I don't think we're going to have much of an issue at all."

Dan Chapman, project manager for the North Texas Tollway Authority, confirmed he's aware of the wall and made it clear that the issue is independent of the toll road project. Chapman also denied receiving a copy of the memo sent by City Manager Mary Suhm regarding the levee repairs, a letter Rasansky referred to as "a devastating blow."

Rasansky cited the story from The Dallas Morning News regarding the $1 billion budget gap with the toll road, and he asked for an explanation regarding Mayor Tom Leppert's claim that there are buckets of funding to cover the gap. "I would like to know where those buckets of gold are that can be tapped into to finish this project," Rasansky said.

Jordan mentioned regional tolls, future tolls from the Trinity Turnpike, federal and state legislation and TxDOT money as possibilities. Linda Koop, chair of the Regional Transporation Council and city council's Transportation and Enviroment Commmitte, said the funding is unknown until the NTTA is able to perform traffic studies.

Council member Angela Hunt countered that the NTTA should have "a fairly good idea" of its ability to contribute to the road's cost because a Major Transportation Investment Study was performed 10 years ago, and the NTTA surely wouldn't get involved in this project without having some idea of what it can finance.

"I don't know those kinds of answers," Chapman said when Hunt asked how much the NTTA can fund.

Chapman noted that there is a lot of contingency built into the cost, and the NTTA is working on reducing that cost as it moves forward with the road's design in greater detail. Hunt stressed that Leppert said "very clearly" during the Trinity River toll road campaign that the NTTA was committed to filling any funding gaps.

"So what I'm trying to understand is now that that statement has proved to be untrue, that we understand exactly how much the NTTA is committed to," she said. "I don't think that's too much to ask."

Hunt mentioned the excavation of the lakes for the Trinity project, which the NTTA has committed to funding in order to use the soil to build a bench for the road to sit on. Chapman said early tests on the soil have been positive as useable for the bench, and he expects to know for sure this fall.

Hunt asked Chapman if there was a Plan B in case the soil proves insufficient for the bench.

"Well, not necessarily," Chapman said.

He added that the wetland area is a potential contingency site and said there will be "more than sufficient material" for the levee improvements and toll road bench. Chapman also said the NTTA hasn't discussed the possibility that the soil won't be adequate, and he couldn't respond to Hunt pressing on whether the NTTA would still pay for the excavation of the lakes if the soil can't be used for the bench.

Hunt also raised concerns about the use of diaphragm walls to protect against penetration by piers into the levee system. Chapman said the walls are the "Cadillac" solution to the problem, and the NTTA is hoping to find less costly solutions.

"The corps' ultimate preference would be no penetration at all within the levee system," Chapman said.

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