THE COG! It Has a New Idea for the Trinity Toll Road. Be Very Very Afraid!

The weird shadow government nobody knows about but that runs everything, called "THE COG!," headquartered near Six Flags amusement park in Arlington, is cooking up a plan to ram a new highway down the city's throat even if the city votes against it.

Well, that would be my interpretation of a story in The Dallas Morning News this morning by Brandon Formby. You're welcome to call me alarmist, paranoid and whatever. Just don't come crying when you have a 10-lane truck route down the Trinity River instead of the park citizens voted for 16 years ago.

Formby lays out a typically Byzantine strategy pursued by backroom power broker Michael Morris of the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) -- THE COG!. Morris is seeking to filch money from the feds and then get even more money from some private outfit like CINTRA, the Spanish toll road company Governor Rick Perry tried to sell Texas to when he was still pushing a private superhighway to be called the Trans-Siberian Highway.

No, wait. That wasn't it. Oh, yeah, Perry's gigantic highway and rail route, for which he wanted to gobble up private land by eminent domain, was to be called the Trans-Texas Corridor. But same idea. Anything with "THE COG!" or "Trans" in its name -- grab your babushka and run, which is what the Texas Legislature finally did when it killed Perry's Siberian pipe dream.

THE COG! was supposed to be a mere planning agency to make sure state and federal transportation money got spent fairly in the region. But over a period of years the behind-the-scenes boys realized that THE COG! held the purse strings for all the big public works projects that determine land value around them. Now, far from being a neutral planning agency, THE COG! has emerged as the one outfit that can make big things happen no matter what local communities near those things may think they want.

That's the story behind all those crazy overflow citizen meetings you may have seen on TV where outraged people in suburban and small town in North Texas communities are screaming. They don't want a toll road through their towns. Hey, if all of the communities along the proposed route don't want a toll road, then they don't have to have one, right? This is America!

Wrong. This is COGica, the land where an invisible government nobody ever heard of can ram a toll road down your throat whether you like it or not. That's exactly what I see between the lines in The Dallas Morning News story this morning. And by the way, my between-the-lines vision is 20/20.

What Formby has unearthed with some great reporting is this: Michael Morris, who is THE COG!'s commissar of transportation, wants to go to Austin and Washington and put together a deal in which the Trinity toll road could be built through Dallas with federal funds and private investment, even if Dallas votes against it.

No, wait. It's worse than that. Dallas is supposed to be a partner on the Trinity toll road project with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). The Michael Morris plan would get the road built even if both partners, Dallas and the NTTA, decide they don't want it.

That very possibility has been looming larger in recent months as more and more Dallas leaders have changed their minds and said they think ramming a 10-lane highway through the city practically on top of the river is a dumb idea. The NTTA has been giving signs it isn't enthusiastic about the plan either, and I can tell you why.

The News keeps reporting that the toll road will cost $1.5 billion to build. The last good figure I saw was $1.8 billion. But let's not quibble over billions. Seven years ago we told you here that an analysis by a nationally recognized consultant showed that tolls paid by drivers on a Trinity River toll road would raise only $70 million toward construction cost.

See also: Road Rage

So it's a bust as a toll road project. No private investors will kick in the better part of $2 billion to build something that will be in the hole $1.9 billion the day it opens, with no hope of recouping the red ink.

Aha! That's where the feds come in. Morris figures we go get a some huge fat federal subsidy, let's say $1.7 billion, and then we give the road away to a Spanish toll road company. They don't have to pay to build it, but they get to charge tolls and run it. And that way he gets to build it even if the next Dallas City Council votes against it and the NTTA washes its hands. For us, it's what you call a lose-lose situation.

The story on this road, what it will be, what it will do, what it will cost, has been one long unbroken series of lies since 1997 when the behind-the-scenes boys started fighting for it. This new move by Commissar Morris and THE COG! is but the latest chapter.

THE COG! is the ultimate governmental nightmare. What is that unsettling grinding sound that wakes you up at night? It's the sound of THE COG! grinding ever closer. You're trying to run, trying to run, but your legs won't move. THE COG! is coming!

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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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