Friday, November 17, 2006

"I think future generations will wonder why we did this, why we ruined parkland by putting a tollway down it."

Trinity project faces bump in road

Dallas: Planned parkway may harm levee, must be tweaked, corps says

November 17, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

Dallas officials and North Texas Tollway Authority project managers are working to tweak the alignment of the proposed Trinity Parkway, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined it might compromise the Trinity River's eastern levee.

The corps says it will support the tollway – a key part of the city's landmark Trinity River Project – only if design elements don't put the city at risk for flooding. Corps officials say the city has been quick to address the problem areas.

The parkway project "absolutely cannot happen if the structural integrity of the levee is damaged in any way," said Col. Christopher Martin, commander of the corps' Fort Worth district.

Dallas officials said they've "hit a bump" with the nine-mile, $691 million parkway, intended to relieve downtown traffic and provide easy access to the future park and lakes. But they said they were confident the adjustments would do the trick.

"We're moving it around some," City Manager Mary Suhm said of the parkway. "We're going to have to figure out how to get the tollway and the levees to fit together."

But not everyone on the Dallas City Council wants these puzzle pieces to fit. District 14 council member Angela Hunt is opposing the tollway because of its proximity to the long-awaited parks project.

"It is extraordinarily shortsighted to put a six-lane tollway in the middle of what is supposed to be our Dallas destination park," Ms. Hunt said. "I think we will look back and regret it in the future."

The Trinity River Project is, first and foremost, a flood-control measure, Col. Martin said, and the tollway plan is an added bonus. It's the corps' job to make sure that the project's main intent – protecting Dallas residents from high water – is not compromised, he said.

Col. Martin, who took over the Fort Worth office this summer, said the first parkway sketches he saw "could've potentially violated the structural integrity" of the eastern levee, along which the tollway is designed to run. Dallas and its contractors have worked quickly to make the fixes, which warrant further study, he said, but at first glance appear to do the trick.

The toll road, which would alternate between four and six lanes and be sized to handle traffic projections for 2025, is designed to ease congestion on Interstate 35E and the Interstate 30/35E Mixmaster. It would also provide an alternate route into Oak Cliff, southern Dallas and downtown.

"We have to have a road to relieve 85,000 cars a day from the Mixmaster – the minimum to fulfill our traffic needs," said City Council member Ed Oakley, chairman of the council's Trinity River committee.

Under the City Council's preferred alignment, the tollway would begin at the confluence of I-35E and State Highway 183, and end at U.S. Highway 175 – running right inside and atop the levee that protects much of downtown from an 800-year flood. Construction could begin as early as next year.

Trinity River Project director Rebecca Dugger said the corps' concerns involved "places where they felt the parkway was getting too close to their levee footprint," particularly where it runs under the bridges spanning the river.

"They didn't like that," Ms. Dugger said. "After [Hurricane] Katrina, the corps is obviously looking very carefully at their levees, and making sure nothing is going to impact their ability to fight floods."

She said the city, in conjunction with the tollway authority, is trying to push the parkway "somewhere that would make the corps a little more comfortable" – away from the levee and slightly closer to the proposed waterfront.

For Ms. Hunt, the only acceptable solution is to trash the tollway project altogether. But she acknowledged that "politicians have made their decision" and that the only way to change the tollway's course would be for Dallas constituents to demand it.

"I think future generations will wonder why we did this, why we ruined parkland by putting a tollway down it," she said.

Mr. Oakley said the council has jumped this hurdle before – right after Laura Miller was elected mayor. Even she, originally an ardent opponent of the project, realized there was no getting around a new roadway adjacent to the park, he said.

"Everybody would like the road not to be there," he said. "But we have no better alternatives."

In other Trinity news, Thursday marked the grand opening of the Trinity Center – an Oak Lawn office designed to house the Trinity Trust Foundation and other nonprofits involved in the massive lakes, parks and tollway project.

The Trinity Trust, headed by chief fundraiser Gail Thomas, is raising $150 million in private dollars for the project. The center will eventually display a 20-by-7-foot scale model of the Trinity River corridor.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co