Ron Kirk and Lee Jackson Are a Pair of Madmen on the Trinity Toll Road Issue

Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and former Dallas County Judge Lee Jackson, two wild and crazy guys, had a shared piece on the opinion pages of The Dallas Morning News yesterday under a headline, "Congestion will worsen without Trinity toll road."

If you asked Kirk and Jackson to produce a single study to show their proposed toll road would reduce congestion, they couldn't do it. None of the studies show that.

In fact, from the very beginning of this incredibly drawn-out increasingly ridiculous 18-year debate, the studies have all shown that Kirk and Jackson's story is not true. Think about it. If it's such a silver bullet, why hasn't a stone been turned in almost two decades of talking about it?

We did a story here on July 1, 1999, (why am I embarrassed to admit we've even been talking about it that long?) providing a basic tick-tock on the cost and traffic claims being made for the toll road back then. One of the pillars of that story was a study by Dain Rauscher Investment Services looking at a variety of funding scenarios for the road and also at the benefit the road could provide to congestion in the "mixmaster" of old freeway exchanges downtown.

All of those scenarios were plagued by the same two fatal defects: 1) The toll road wouldn't go where traffic wants to go in the first place, and 2) Dain Rauscher found that making it a toll road, instead of a free road, slashed the benefit to the mixmaster by as much as two-thirds.

At the very least, the Dain Rauscher study, if anybody remembered it, would raise serious questions about the veracity and moral integrity of the "civil rights" argument recently invented to justify the road -- that poor people in southern Dallas need the toll road to help them get to work. You take a road that already goes in the wrong direction, then slap a toll on it, and you've rendered the effect on congestion negligible, not to mention making it irrelevant to the lives of poor people.

The toll road has been debated for so long that some of the best moments have been utterly forgotten. I forgot, until I reread that 1999 story, that Halff Engineering, then the public face of the road hucksters, had promised the City Council that all of the downtown freeway bridges would be replaced at little or no cost to the city, because the highway department wanted to replace them all anyway.

It was a lie. The Texas Department of Transportation told the Observer back then that it had no intention of replacing the bridges until after the city solved the congestion problem on the mixmaster, and guess why? Because with the traffic all congested and slowed down like that, the bridges weren't all that crowded.

The reason we have all that new freeway bridge construction going on now is that since 1999 TxDOT has spent billions of dollars fixing the mixmaster. That was always the way to fix congestion in the mixmaster -- by fixing congestion in the mixmaster, not by building a brand-new extra freeway somewhere else.

TxDOt's success in fixing the mixmaster will become much more evident when those new freeway bridges open. Why would we even consider spending $1.8 billion on the toll road until we see how that works out?

The basic picture painted by Kirk and Jackson is absolutely wrong and upside down for so many reasons. Robert Meckfessel, an architect with DSGN associates, explained in a companion piece in the News yesterday that downtown Dallas -- like downtowns all over this country and Europe -- is headed 180 degrees away from the direction Kirk and Lee would have us believe.

The picture Kirk and Lee paint -- more and more people jamming onto freeways to get back and forth between downtown and the suburbs -- might make sense if we were talking about Don Draper commuting from Connecticut to Manhattan in Madmen. But remember, all you Madmenolics, that, even back in the '60s and '70s, whenever Don or that rascally Pete Campbell got free of a wife, the first thing they did was move into the city.

Now everybody under 50 is moving into cities, and, happily for the children of America, they are bringing their wives with them, or the wives are bringing them, whatever. The days of mass commuting in and out of downtown are fading, not growing on us.

We are significantly behind that curve in Dallas, even though the change finally is beginning to happen here. The main reason for our social retardation is the thinking and the control exerted over this city by people who think like Kirk and Jackson. Somebody needs to roll those guys a fatty, put some KC Sunshine Band on the machine and see if they can learn "The Bump." Gotta get those guys up with the times somehow.

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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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