When It Comes to the Trinity Toll Road, For Some, "Sorry" Seems to Be the Hardest Word

It's just beginning to dawn on me. I should be in heaven right now. I don't know why I'm not.

The sheer dumbness of the Trinity River toll road is now at long last apparent for all to see. It's blown sky high and is comin' down! And none of the people who foisted it off on the city can get out from under it in time. It's going to come down on their heads!

This stupid project has consumed not just treasure and time but the city's entire political focus since 1998. Much worse than the money wasted is the energy and will, two invaluable social commodities that could have been spent making Dallas a better place to live. It's sheer poetic justice that the people who erected this stupid political contraption can't escape its collapse.

But I can't find the poesy. I started thinking about all this earlier in the week after D Magazine publisher Wick Allison blasted me in a blog post because I had painted him as a champion of the ill-fated concept of putting a major highway out between the flood control levees along the river, right where it floods.

I had written that Allison, in August 2009, was still urging the mayor and others to ignore engineering problems with the proposed glug-glug-glug route for the toll road , press on regardless, damn the torpedoes and so on -- D booster talk, in other words.

Allison said I had twisted his words. D Editor Tim Rogers wrote in another post that his boss's support for the toll road "ended, as far as I can tell, in [March] 2009." Rogers offered up a piece in which Allison had admitted making a bunch of false claims about money for the road.

So in this week's Dallas Observer, our managing editor, Patrick Williams, wrote in his column called "Buzz" that he didn't understand why Rogers was telling us his boss had recanted, "as far as I can tell."

Why not walk in his office and ask him? Hey, Wick, now that it's obvious the toll road is absurdly too expensive, at least a billion bucks in the hole with nowhere to go for the money, and we know the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is never going to OK it on flood-safety grounds, do you now solemnly recant your view that it was the greatest thing since the virgin birth?

Rogers has to do that, right? And Allison has to respond. So ever since Williams's piece came out yesterday, I've been on pins and needles. Will Allison really and truly recant? How can he not, given the hole he's dug for himself now?

And then it struck me. He can't! No matter what! No matter how boneheaded and stupid an idea the toll road between the levees is revealed to be, Allison can't admit that it's a bad idea, because he can't afford to piss off the money.

The Citizens Council guys who have pushed for this road since the 1950s, the same ones who wanted a canal dug along the Trinity to make Dallas a seaport, will string up, cut loose and totally kneecap the first one of their hey-boys who admits how dumb this thing has been all along.

It's not just Allison. I can give you a list of people who can never ever admit under any circumstances that this thing has always been a laughable loser. Our new mayor, for example, Mike Rawlings: I watched him during the campaigns. You know he knows the truth, but he cannot spit it out.

Same for former Mayor Tom Leppert, who's running for the U.S. Senate. His problem is that recanting would make him a liar: He told us it was already a done deal.

The city manager, Mary Suhm. If she ever admits this thing was a mistake, she might as well rent a big U-Haul and haul herself up to Alaska to retire.

None of our congressional delegation, who have funded this thing with earmark funny money all these years, can afford to say they threw the money away.

You have everybody from Gail Thomas at the Dallas Institute to city council member Dwaine Caraway -- all the people who let themselves get tattooed with the toll road somewhere along the way. They can never admit what a bad idea this was from the beginning. And I should love that, because it means they are hoist with their own petard.

The Dallas Morning News, of which there has been no greater shill, is trying to distance itself by saying it was seduced by "leaders"

who told the paper it was a good plan. Sure, we could laugh at them. And I do. But isn't there also something at least vulnerable and human in such a transparently weak attempt at self-exoneration? In addition to laughing at them, I should be willing to feel a little bit sorry for them in their dilemma. I am going to feel sorry for them in the near future, I am sure. I'm working on it.

But the others, the hardcore, now that's another story, a tale crudely told by Allison, who sends his Man Friday out to the balcony to tell the angry mob, "I think my boss was sort of against it after he was kind of for it a little bit briefly, but please don't hurt me, because I just work here."

They are all helpless in a prison of their own making with only room enough to squirm. In the next edition of D, Allison will have some laughably contorted Jesuitical nonsense about how he does not recant, but he does decant, and even if problems may have made the project somewhat less viable, they also have made it more pliable, which is almost the same thing except for two letters.

I should love this, but for some reason I don't. I think I may just be tired of hearing them all talk, no matter what they say. May they all fade away mercifully into the tender embrace of irrelevance -- the only hug they deserve.

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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

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