Transportation projects are like the rest of life. Sure they offer benefits, but they carry costs, as well. Powerful Dallas City Council member Vonciel Hill, chair of both the council's transportation and legislative lobbying committees, stops meetings to introduce the rich people whose families will have bridges named for them in the Trinity River project. But the people paying the cost for all that sucking up are her own constituents whose interests she ignores.
While Hill is out beating the drum for "creative financing" for the Trinity toll road -- basically a rich people's road to spur high-rent redevelopment downtown -- she has accomplished zip, nothing, not a damn thing for a major transportation project in her own backyard, the so-called "Southern Gateway" on U.S. 67 and Interstate 35E.
And what about that "Dead Man's Curve" on the S.M. Wright Freeway in southern Dallas that she and council member Carolyn Davis were supposed to get fixed? As far as I can tell, that poor guy's still dead.
I can't promise you I would love the Southern Gateway if it were underway full-tilt boogie right now. It's a massive project that has been in the works since 2005 (see below), fully authorized by the Legislature last year, to widen U.S. 67 and I-35 from Interstate 20 to 8th Street in North Oak Cliff, build new bridges, ramps and approaches, all with an eye toward easing congestion, of course, but also to spur major economic development.
We have talked here about the ways in which the Trinity toll road continues to suck the life out of other city projects. But given urgent need of Southern Dallas for economic development and the fantastic hypocrisy of Hill's position, this may be the one that takes the cake.
Hey, maybe I might like it when I see it, maybe I won't, but if I'm sitting in Hill's chair talking all the time about how my district needs jobs, this is it, man. The Southern Gateway is exactly the huge infusion of public and private money needed to spur major amplitudes of investment in the Inland Port Project in southern Dallas.
The Inland Port. You remember that one, right? It's a huge trucking, rail and warehousing project offering southern Dallas the single biggest promise of jobs and investment ever in its history -- ever! -- but Hill's mentor, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, is under federal investigation right now for, among other things, an accusation that he sabotaged the Inland Port to help out a rich white family that owns a competing project.
See a pattern here?
Hill consistently claims the Trinity toll road is some kind of economic development project for southern Dallas, which is absurd. She can't even get Dead Man's Curve fixed, and that's only the place where the toll road peters out, anyway, because nobody using it will want to go there.
But more to the point -- much more -- is Hill's utter failure to get anything going on the Southern Gateway. Why is it her job? Well, one, she's chair of both the transportation and legislative committees, an unprecedented concentration of power in one council person, by the way. But, two, it's in the nature of the gateway project that local officials affected by it have to make it happen.
The gateway project is what the Legislature calls a "comprehensive development agreement" project. That means it's supposed to be a cooperative deal between government and the private sector. It also means it will have tolls or the equivalent at some point, so the private investors can make money (which is my reason for holding off total enthusiasm).
This thing was authorized in 2013. It has a tight clock running on it. It has to get done by 2017, or the deal sunsets. It goes away. Why? Because the state has a limited amount of money to put into these things, and everybody in Texas wants one. Getting the authorization last year was a big win for southern Dallas. But the minute it happened, Hill should have been out beating the bushes for private partners, doing everything she could to assure investors that southern Dallas is a good investment.
Instead she's spending all her time and leverage campaigning for the Trinity toll road, which is designed to be basically a private carriage road serving the lifestyles of the rich and famous so they won't have to risk getting their hood ornaments stolen while passing through unsightly neighborhoods.
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But don't take that from me. Maybe you can tell I have sort of an attitude going against the toll road. Just look at the map. Look at three things. Dead Man's Curve. The Southern Gateway Project. The Trinity toll road.
She can support the toll road if she wants. It's a free country. But it's reprehensible for her to fight for that toll road while she has accomplished nothing on a project that truly is of major importance to her own community. There just isn't an excuse for that -- though I did call her to see if she had one anyway. She hasn't called back.