The Horror, The Horror Behind the Latest Trinity River Piece in Dallas's Only Daily

Trinity River Project stories are The Dallas Morning News on mescaline. The city's only daily does so well with other coverage. But then they drop one of those Trinity River tabs, and the walls go to rubber.

This morning The Dallas Morning News publishes a story saying the federal share of the Trinity River Project not counting the toll road -- the amount the feds must spend to fix basic flood control along the river downtown -- has doubled since 2007. The story blames it on "delays."

"But it's clear now," the paper states in its so-called news columns, "that the delays have been costly for the Trinity River project, often called the most ambitious in the city's history."

First of all, it's not clear that delays are what are driving the astronomical new costs. Secondly, this line -- like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now moaning, "The delays! The delays!" -- is the same old bullshit incantation the Trinity Project hustlers, including The News, have been chanting since the anti-toll road referendum in 2007.

They said back then that lawsuits and referendums were holding up the project and causing costs to soar. But in fact the project had never even passed the entry-level design and environmental impact tests: There wasn't anything on the table to hold up. Which is pretty much the same deal now.

If anything is holding it up, it's the monumentally stupid basic concept behind it: Let's ignore our levee system, let it go to hell and threaten everybody with disaster, and spend all our time and money instead building an unneeded freeway for real estate developers out between the levees where it will make everything even worse.

I added up the numbers in The News story.

Of $422.7 million in new Trinity costs that Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is trying to slick through the congress in a water resources bill, only $81.2 million is identified as "inflation" since 2007. And even that is highly suspect.

That would come out to about 6 percent inflation per year in construction costs. Turner Construction, our mayor's former employer, is showing construction costs down for the last four quarters. McGraw-Hill Engineering News Record shows it up in the last year but only by 3.5 percent. The difference probably has to do with specific types of construction. But 6 percent a year for three years? I don't see that anywhere.

And anyway, even at that, fully $341.5 million in the new federal funny money is in new costs, presumably for engineering changes since the existing levees were reclassified NDG--AA (no damn good ... at all) by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And remember, dear taxpayer, this is only the federal share.

The folks who are really on the hook big-time for rebuilding our failed levee system are ... uh, that would be ... you and me. It was the city's responsibility to keep up the levees. The Corps has ruled that the city allowed the levees to deteriorate to a point where they are virtually useless as a defense against major flooding. So now it's on us to fix them.

Some of this new money that Rep. Johnson is trying to shovel our way -- the bill hasn't passed yet -- iis probably an attempt to off-shore some of our obligation to the feds, to get Washington to help us pay our share to fix the levees. And more power to her, if that is her quest. They put that stuff on my house taxes, I'm changing my name and moving to Ohio at midnight.

Of course, any congressperson who represents a community somewhere else that is having to pay its own full share under the law might look askance at this special deal for Dallas. Why is it, exactly, that the Trinity River Project in Dallas has to be exempted and re-exempted from some federal law every two or three months?

It couldn't be that it was a very bad idea in the first place? You know, we keep exempting this thing from laws, pretty soon it's going to be legal to shoot people over it.

I noticed that Kevin Craig, the guy at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who is supposed to be in charge of the project (meaning he's the flak), couldn't be reached for comment by The News. Yeah, no kidding. I have been trying to reach this fellow for two weeks. Maybe he ran away to Spain with MaryAnn Russ, head of the Dallas Housing Authority, who has been the city's other least reachable person for the last several weeks.

I want to talk to Craig about the fact that the new Maggie Hunt Hill (Calatrava) Bridge now has great big footings sunk in the levee on the West Dallas side of the river. But we haven't heard yet what the fix is supposed to be for the failed levee system.

The last specific idea I heard was for concrete curtain walls sunk to bedrock (60 feet down) along the entire 23-mile length of the system. I know they didn't do that yet for the new bridge. So how come it's going ahead?

And that's what this is all really about and probably why Craig has taken a powder. Nobody in government wants to own up to what the real costs are going to be, federal and local, for fixing those levees.

If I were Marlon Brando and I had snakes painted on my head in Apocalypse Now, I would be moaning, "The billions! The billions!" But I'll tell you what else. Me in that scene? I've got on Kevlar.

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