Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"We believe it is time for the voters to reclaim what has become a billion-dollar boondoggle. "


Reconsider location of Trinity Project reliever route

April 11, 2007

Angela Hunt
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

If you entered a voting booth on May 2, 1998, you saw the following on the ballot:

"Proposition 11: The issuance of $246,000,000 general obligation Trinity River Corridor Project bonds, the project to include floodways, levees, waterways, open space, recreational facilities, the Trinity Parkway and related street improvements, and other related, necessary, and incidental improvements to the Trinity River Corridor."

Two key words are conspicuously absent: "toll" and "road."

People are often surprised to learn that the city of Dallas and the North Texas Tollway Authority are planning to build a large toll road in our floodway, between our levees – the grass hills along the river that protect our city from catastrophic flooding. Residents are even more surprised to learn about the drastic changes the city has made to the Trinity River Project since 1998.

Almost a decade ago, the city sold voters a vision of parks, lakes and sailboats. After the election, in a classic bait and switch, City Hall quickly dispensed with any pretense that this was anything other than a roads project. Originally envisioned as a low-speed parkway that would provide direct access to the park, the "Trinity Parkway" quickly devolved into a high-speed toll road completely disconnected from the park.

Other changes followed:

  • In 1998, the estimated cost of the Trinity Parkway was $394 million. Today, the toll road is $600 million over budget and will cost more than $1 billion. City officials are unable to provide a final cost estimate.
  • In 1998, the city claimed that flood control was a critical component of the Trinity River Corridor Project. This February, we learned that the Tollway Authority intends to seek a waiver from the federal government to build the road using pre-Katrina safety standards, instead of new, more stringent standards being developed in response to the disaster in New Orleans.
  • Last November, the city moved the toll road even farther into the park in response to safety concerns by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who feared that the road would weaken our levees. By the city's own calculation – and despite furious backpedaling and word-parsing – this will eliminate one-third of the downtown Trinity parkland and reduce the size of our lakes.
  • The Corps also confirmed that the toll road will flood and that they must reserve the right to rip out sections of the road to repair our levees.
  • There are no guarantees that this toll road will not be sold to a foreign company. In fact, last week, the state Senate transportation committee exempted the road from a proposed two-year ban on long-term toll road leases with private companies.
City Hall bureaucrats and politicians dismiss these fundamental changes as minor "tweaks." They are offended by the notion that Dallas residents, who are paying for this project, have the gall to demand accountability. So they resort to stale political scare tactics, arguing that any effort to bring accountability and transparency to this project is irresponsible and will result in delay.

(Never mind that all of their previous timelines have come and gone. At least four start dates for the toll road have been printed in this very newspaper: 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2008. This time, they claim, the road will absolutely, positively start construction in 2010. Probably.)

Because of the dramatic changes to this project, and because of City Hall's never-ending string of unmet timelines and unfulfilled promises, we believe it is time for the voters to reclaim what has become a billion-dollar boondoggle. We are calling for a referendum to let voters decide whether to take the toll road out of the park. During the upcoming mayoral election, we will be collecting signatures at polling locations during early voting and on Election Day.

Despite claims to the contrary, our referendum will not slow down this project and will not jeopardize funding. In fact, by moving the toll road, we will be able to begin construction of the park and floodway improvements sooner.

If you believe it's time City Hall lived up to its promises, if you're tired of bait and switch politics, if you want future generations to enjoy a Downtown Trinity Park without a toll road running through it, then join us.

It's time for the residents of Dallas to move this project forward and reclaim the vision of the Trinity River Project. It's time for a Trinity vote.

Angela Hunt is a Dallas City Council member.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE