To follow up this morning's item on Project Pegasus, which has been all but left for dead on the side of the Mixmaster ...
I spoke earlier today with Bill Hale, P.E., the district engineer for the Dallas District of the Texas Department of Transportation, and he said that, yup, "based on the funding sources, there's no money to pay for it." He points out: Back in 2005, the Mixmaster-Canyon-Lower Stemmons redo was guesstimated to run $2.5 billion. Which would be a bargain today.
A little later, TxDOT spokesperson Cynthia Northup White called back to clarify the Channel 8 account: "I never said the project is dead," she said. "What we do is as much as we have funds to do. We continue to develop these projects." But she reiterated something Hale told me earlier: Two and only two pieces of the project will be salvaged -- the I-30 and I-35 bridges over the Trinity River. The rest -- including the much-clamored-for redo of S.M. Wright Freeway, otherwise known as the "Dead Man's Curve" that runs through Southern Dallas -- has been put on hold due to lack of funds.
"What we've done in the past several years has enabled us to pull out those bridges from Project Pegasus," White said. "We separated the S.M. Wright project from the Pegasus Project, and if we do get construction funds, we can proceed. But right now we don't have the funds to construct it. We're setting the groundwork so it'll be ready should the funds become available."
I'm still waiting on a call back from Linda Koop, head of the council's Transportation Committee, but Angela Hunt, who led the opposition to the Trinity River toll road and demanded the city instead move ahead with Pegasus and S.M. Wright, was not at all pleased when informed of the latest road closure involving S.M. Wright: "Messing around with this imaginary toll road got us to where we are today," she told Unfair Park this afternoon, "which is a complete transportation disaster."
The I-30 bridge, you'll no doubt recall, is where the city wants to stick Santiago Calatrava's Margaret McDermott Bridge, which, long time ago, was supposed to be completed by 2009. And the city has always wanted the I-35 bridge to complete Calatrava's holy trinity with "inclined twin arches meeting on the highest point with a suspended cradle deck hanging from the arches."
Hale says both bridges need to be replaced sooner than later, and that there's some money available for that -- around $250 million statewide. The I-35 bridge, he says, will receive funding because of the condition it's in: "The substructure needs to be replaced at some point."
TxDOT, he says, hasn't received money for the I-30 bridge. And "if the city wants to make it a signature bridge, we'll allow them to put it in there, but it would be an an extra cost. But they haven't ID'd the dollars to cover that, so we're designing it as a normal structure."
He says there's no timeline in place for either, but it needs to be soon.
"We'll keep them maintained," he says. "We're spending more to make sure they're safe, but it gets more and more expensive. The deck on the 30, a few years ago we spent a milion and a half to fix those potholes. But we'd like to have the money in the next two years because otherwise we'll just keep spending to repair it."
TxDOT's White says, look, the days of the "full-out project" are past, at least for the foreseeable future. Instead, megaprojects like the Mixmaster redo will be picked apart and salvaged if and when the money shows back up.
"What I tried to make clear to Shelly Slater was road projects take place over many years," White says. "Even though we don't see funding on the horizon, we have to plan for the future, and the planning and design for many of these projects is ongoing. With Project Pegasus, there's been a couple of full-out projects that we're trying to pull out and take a bite-sized approach."
At which point we began discussing Tom Leppert and The Dallas Morning News' claims back in '07 that Project Pegasus would wither without the Trinity River toll road.
"When it comes to construction, you're well aware of how congested that area is already," she said. "If you have an area under construction, it exacerbates an already bad situation. If we could have a reliever route, that would assist to spare the pain of construction."
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The Trinity River toll road, says White, was to have been that reliever route. (Though, as Schutze likes to say, they didn't need no relievers when they built the High Five. They just called 'em "detours.")
"Ya know, I distinctly remember Tom Leppert promising the citizens of Dallas buckets of money for transportation projects," says Hunt.
He sure did -- in February 2009, when it came to light that the Trinity toll way could cost around a billion more than the North Texas Tollway Authority could spare. He said: "That's a big number, but there are a lot of buckets [of funding] to dip into. We're absolutely committed to seeing this project through."
"I wish that Tom Leppert would help us find those buckets of money that are so well hidden even TxDOT can't find them," Hunt says. "If he has any time off between campaign appearances, I hope he'll help us find them, because the fact is his administration's singular focus on the toll road and the false claim the toll road had to be constructed before moving forward on Project Pegasus, that's what put us in this position. That's what is going to lock up downtown transportation congestion for years to come, and it's a disaster. And I put it squarely on his shoulders."