The Trinity Toll Road Just Keeps Rolling on the River

The Trinity toll road is undead. It walks in the night. Forget garlic. It is coming. It's a fundamentally crazy idea. But it lives.

If anything, the idea is protected by its basic craziness. It's so crazy, it never quite comes together in people's heads, and that's how the powers behind it want it.

They want to build a high-speed multi-lane toll road hugging the Trinity River through downtown, out between the 23-mile-long, 50-foot-high earthen embankments called levees that keep the river from flooding the city. They want to put the road out where it floods.

This is about water. Water can be extremely complicated, or it can be very simple. This ought to be simple. In fact, as I've suggested before, you can model the basic engineering problem in the safety of your own bathroom.

Take some toy cars made out of metal or something that won't float. Or, tell you what, who has toy cars made out of metal? Just do this. Get some rocks. Say to yourself, "These are toy cars made out of metal." Now put the make-believe toy-car rocks on the bottom of your bathtub. If you don't have a bathtub, use your sink.

Now plug the drain. This is the key part. Turn on the taps. Watch the water come out. Comes out, comes out, comes out. Wait. Now observe what has happened to the toy cars. OMG! They're under water!

That's it. That's the main thing wrong with putting a highway out between the flood control levees. Twice a year our monsoon seasons turn the Trinity River levee system into a 23-mile-long, quarter- to half-mile-wide lake up to 50 feet deep.

The proponents will tell you that the bathtub hardly ever gets that full. They will say in recent memory it got that full maybe once or twice, but most of the time it's way less full and would not put the toy cars underwater or at most it might just get their tires wet.

And what is the rebuttal to that? It's the damn bottom of the bathtub. Why would you put your toy cars on the bottom of your bathtub? Isn't one total flooding of the toy cars one too many, seeing as how in real life they would be real cars with real people in them?

Why not keep the cars entirely out of the bathtub? Why not put the road outside the levees? Levees protect the land outside of them, away from the river, not the land inside of them. That's the point of levees. Why ... what ... how can you even ... what on earth is the matter with you?

See, that's where we always wind up. And let's do this. Let us not go trailing back through the entire history explaining why the powers that be want to put the toy cars on the bottom of the bathtub. We could do that, but it's very saddening and in the end changes nothing. They just do. It's what they want. They want to make money on the land outside the levees. They think they have to have a road to make money. But they don't want the road on their land.

Yes, it's stupid. But the idea has been around in one form or another for a good 50 years, and it cannot be killed even with a stake through its heart. It just keeps crawling back out of the crypt.

So how does it do it? How can something so manifestly crazy manage to stay alive so long? It survives because it is crazy. Listen to me. That's how it is.

You got your cars. You got your tub. You got your drain plug and your faucets. But according to City Hall, you have to check them all out separately. You never actually put your toy cars into the tub and turn the water on.

Last week the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers put on a meeting in the basement of Dallas City Hall to update interested parties on the entire Trinity River project, a massive campaign of public works OK'd by voters in a bond election in 1998. I went. The cars were not in the tub.

If you had attended last week's meeting — I don't think I saw you there, did I? — you might have gone in thinking, "OK, I've had enough of this foolishness. It's time for some hard answers on this toy cars in the bathtub thing."

You would have been sooo wrong. It was not time. It will never be time. You would not even have been allowed to ask the question at this meeting, because this meeting was not about that part of the whole Trinity River project.

In fact this meeting was about only half of the project, because the project was passed by Congress as two projects, one that runs from up around the old Texas Stadium site in Irving down to the DART tracks just south of downtown and a second project that runs from the DART tracks down almost to the city's southern border. This meeting was about the upstream part, so you couldn't ask about the downstream part.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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

Latest Stories