Schutze

Trinity Toll Road Doesn't Add Up

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It's a crazy idea that flies in the face of what's going on all over the rest of the world, where cities are going to enormous expense to tear down freeways that have imprisoned their waterfronts since the post-World War II era.

The idea is especially implausible at this moment, because the cost — somewhere between one and two billion dollars — is way out ahead of anything the city can raise. And now we do have an alternative. There is a better, cheaper, more effective way to reduce traffic congestion in downtown Dallas.

Project Pegasus is a plan to reconfigure the existing freeways that run through downtown, getting rid of left-hand exits and blind entrances, straightening out cork-screws and devising a system of signage that will reduce the number of wrecks caused by people craning around, lifting their feet off their accelerators and yanking sharply on their steering wheels while they try to figure out which way to turn.

There's no money for that project, either. So the question is this. If we ever do get some money, which thing should we do first, fix the roads we have or sort of give up on them for now and build a brand-new one along the river?

As you may know, Mayor Mike Rawlings and City Council members Hunt, Scott Griggs and Sandy Greyson have been wrestling with this question and with each other, gathering up all kinds of numbers and projections and algorithms. The answers are in by now. I believe they are not hard to follow. Look at Hunt's web page, angelahunt.com, and you will find numbers, footnoted and sourced to the government documents they come from, proving that Pegasus wins on every score.

The mayor, however, has his own set of numbers. I think they are contorted to the point of blatant dishonesty, but I also happen to know something else. I believe I know what the final argument is going to be on all of this on the part of the Old Guard.

At some point in the days ahead, The Dallas Morning News editorial page will float an argument that the debate between the three council members and the mayor over traffic projections and costs is all sort of six of one, half dozen of the other — too much to follow. Instead, the News will offer the following case for the toll road:

The two plans, Pegasus versus Trinity toll road, both have a lot of complicated numbers whirling around them. So in that sense they're sort of equal. We'll never figure it all out, will we? It's like your worst subject in school. Stay away from it!

The toll road is a new road out on new dirt between the flood control levees, so it can be built without any construction mess. And it can charge tolls. So let's do it! Let's just do it!

That's a fundamentally idiotic argument for all sorts of reasons. But maybe the News will be right about one thing. Maybe it's a mistake for all of us to go rushing into numbers-land. If the experts are afraid to go there, maybe we should think twice too.

So how about trying this instead as a nonexpert way to look at things: Let's go ahead and just agree with what I think the News' argument will be. Six of one, half dozen of the other on those real complicated numbers. Winds up equal.

But one road is a Chinese wall in front of the riverfront. The other is not. Where does that get factored in?

If there is a way to solve congestion problems downtown and leave La Santísima Trinidad entirely alone, and in fact enhance and adorn her with parks and trails, then why wouldn't that simple fact alone tip the scales dramatically away from building a new expressway where we do not have one now?

Is this 2012? Or is this 1954, the year President Dwight David Eisenhower announced the Interstate Highway Program in Cadillac Square in Detroit? In 1954, more highways were better than fewer. Every new interstate was money ahead. But this is 2012. Fewer highways are better than more highways if we can possibly manage.

More highways are more air pollution, more noise, more land wasted, more money spent that could be spent on better things. So if there is a way to use the highways we already have, a way to not build a new one and save our entire riverfront in the process and if the traffic projections and the costs are sort of a wash, then why in the world wouldn't we go with the fewer highways option instead of the more?

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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