Real Estate

TxDOT Calls BS on its Own Figures Showing Benefits of Project Pegasus

Last week, when Mayor Mike Rawlings announced he had hedged his support for the Trinity toll road after receiving additional data, it seemed like a victory for City Council members Scott Griggs, Angela Hunt, and Sandy Greyson, the project's opponents.

The figures Griggs rustled up from the Texas Department of Transportation purported to show that Project Pegasus -- a reworking of the Interstate 30 and I-35 interchange downtown that has since been excluded from the North Central Texas Council of Governments' transportation planning -- would cost less and provide more traffic relief than the toll road.

Simple enough. Figures don't lie, right?

But then, when Mayor Mike talked in Oak Cliff a couple of days later, he said he has not "verified" those numbers.

Those numbers show that the main portion of Project Pegasus -- one stretch is already being built as the $700 million Horseshoe Project -- would provide additional capacity of 290,000 cars per day by 2026 at a cost of about $1 billion. That's compared with $1.4 billion or more for the toll road, which will add maybe a third as much additional capacity.

DMN transportation writer Michael Lindenberger reported getting similar data from TxDOT.

Verifying the information would seem to be a fairly straightforward exercise of making a phone call to TxDOT's district engineer, Bill Hale, who provided the numbers to Griggs and company three weeks ago.

Except that, as Rawlings told Lindenberger last week, "I think Bill doesn't support those numbers."

Similarly, TxDOT disowned the figures it gave to Lindenberger.

So if Hale and TxDOT don't support the numbers now, why were they passing them around earlier this month? A civil engineer's idea of a practical joke?

The traffic projections being touted by Griggs, Hunt, and Greyson are old, said TxDOT spokesman Mark Pettitt, and calculated before the Horseshoe Project was started and the rest of Project Pegasus was discarded.

"It's just not even fair to use those numbers," Pettit said.

Which is why, within 30 days, TxDOT will provide Rawlings with sounder numbers.

So hold on. TxDOT has worked on this thing for how long and still needs 30 days to generate some very basic projections? And if it's true that the numbers are unusable after five years, then its projections are worthless.

What TxDOT's suspiciously abrupt retraction seems instead to indicate is that Hale's boss, or his boss's boss, or his boss's boss's politically connected ally, realized that the numbers Griggs and company were bandying about undermine the main rational for building the toll road.

Angela Hunt thinks so:

"It appears to me that TXDOT may be bowing to political pressure, given that they've backtracked on the information they provided to us and they repeatedly confirmed to us," Hunt said. "It's disappointing."

Here's betting the numbers TxDOT cooks up will show that the Trinity toll road is a well-conceived and cost-effective way to ease downtown traffic, at which point, if Lindenberger proves correct, Grigg's, Hunt's, and Greyson's credibility on the issue will be destroyed.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson