Why Did Council Just Approve $10.7 Million For New McDermott Bridge? Because "No One Remembers the Little Things We Do."

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The city council by a 13-1 vote this morning approved a $10.7 million contract with architect Santiago Calatrava to design pedestrian and bicycle components for the proposed Margaret McDermott Bridge, but not without strong opposition from council member Angela Hunt.

Through a series of questions aimed at Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan, Hunt uncovered the current cost estimate for the bridge of $314 million, which had previously been approximately $500 million. The city's Congressional delegation has secured $92 million for the signature element of the bridge, Jordan told the council -- though the Texas Department of Transportation begs to differ. Jordan also said TxDOT is scrambling to find the remainder of the funds.

"It seems to me that we are extravagantly wasting money on a project that may never happen," Hunt said, referring to the signature aspect of what will replace the IH-30 bridge, which has outlived its use.

Hunt suggested removing the signature features and instead building a "plain vanilla" bridge, thereby lowering the cost to $222 million, and then applying the $92 million toward that amount, reducing TxDOT's funding commitment to around $130 million. TxDOT officials have expressed a similar sentiment, suggesting the $92 million cannot be allocated to nonessential costs.

"It violates what we've all been working toward," Jordan responded, pointing out the city's desire to build a second signature bridge next to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which is expected to be completed in October.

"We have one Calatrava bridge, and it seems like one would be enough," Hunt said.

Jordan said the signature element is best for the city long term because it will make the bridge "more memorable" and attract economic development.

"I take issue with it promoting economic development," Hunt said.

After several other council members voiced support of the contract and claimed no city funds were at stake, Hunt reminded them that only $7.2 million of the contract is private funding. The remaining $3.5 million will be paid from 2006 bond funds. Jordan said the Regional Transportation Council is expected to repay that money, but Hunt stressed there's no guarantee that the RTC will follow through.

Dave Neumann, chair of the council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee, praised the contract as "good news" and a "defining moment" for the city.

"Clearly we need to step forward and say, 'We need more than a standard TxDOT bridge,'" he said, echoing Jordan's comments about attracting economic development.

Vonciel Jones Hill, one of Hunt's allies on the council, said she "vehemently" disagrees with Hunt's concerns. She stressed the city's longstanding commitment to ensure the bridge has signature elements and said such a bridge is important to the city's "long-term health and development."

"This is Dallas," she said. "This is how we do things. We do it in a big way."

Steve Salazar agreed. "No one remembers the little things we do," he said.

Mayoral candidate and RTC chair Ron Natinsky said using the $92 million to bridge TxDOT's funding gap "disturbs" him and "is not a fair deal."

"We need to hold the line on this," he said.

Linda Koop, chair of the council's Transportation and Environment Committee, also scoffed at helping out TxDOT, which is charged with designing the bridge's non-pedestrian components. "It's Dallas's time for funding for transportation," she said.

Mayor Dwaine Caraway compared the bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and "the Golden Arch" in St. Louis.

"You and I don't always agree," Caraway said to Hill.

"Rarely," she said.

"But you're on target with your comments," he said.

And, with that, a record vote was called for, and Hunt was the only one in opposition.

"I'm deeply worried about this," Hunt said. "I think it sends the wrong message."

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