| Schutze |

Toll Road Hard and Put Up Wet

Yet another conceptual drawing of a far-off project pushed further back on the calendar.
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Last night at 10, WFAA-Channel 8 ran a good story on the growing delays in the Trinity River toll road timeline. According to Mayor Tom Leppert’s own metric for the cost of delays, the toll road price has already ballooned an additional $100 million, the report said. Completion is at least a year behind what Leppert promised during the campaign for last year’s referendum.

Look a little closer, and we see that Leppert’s promises not only were not true but could not have been honest even when he made them -- because everything about the toll road project is premised on an environmental impact statement that won’t be done for another year. And he knew that.

During the campaign, Leppert made the same kind of public vows he is making now concerning the convention hotel: that he has private sidebar assurances and agreements from “experts” and parties to the deal, so, hey, everything is going to proceed quickly toward success. Just trust him.

In the case of the toll road, for example, he said he had been assured by officials for North Texas Tollway Authority that Dallas would never be asked to invest more money in the toll road than it had already pledged. Weeks before the election, The Dallas Morning News learned from the chairman of the board of the authority that this was not true.

But The News suppressed that story until the day after the votes had been counted, assuring victory for the side that had been so strongly supported and promoted by the paper’s editorial page.

The delays in the time line for construction of the toll road betray another major element in Leppert’s deliberate aggressive deception of the public. He said repeatedly during the campaign that he also had assurances from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said broadly that the Corps saw no big problem with building an expressway inside the levees in the floodway along the river.

Last night’s story focused on Gene Rice, the engineer in charge of the Trinity River flood control project for the Corps. You had to listen for it, but in the piece Rice said fairly plainly that the Corps had never agreed to any of Leppert's timelines and had never agreed that the road itself is feasible.

In fact, the Corps is sitting on a kind of political time bomb here and knows it. The Corps has already signaled in several ways that costs may be very high to build the road inside the levees without exposing downtown to rampaging floods. When the impact statement is done, the costs can be calculated, and someone will be wearing a dunce cap.

And, of course, this is supposed to be a toll road -- a kind of business. If it’s a bad business -- one that won’t pay out because of soaring sunk costs -- and if it’s hooked up to the city treasury for financial back-up, you can guess who’s going to get hosed. I guess we’re the ones in the dunce caps at that point.

Sadly, we can’t do much about it now but sit back and watch while the saga plays out. Time is going to make fools of the people who supported the toll road and a hero of Angela Hunt. But time sure takes its own sweet time, doesn’t it? --Jim Schutze

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