Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Heavyweights vs Citizens on Trinity Toll Road Issue

Group spends $163,000 to save Trinity toll road

Dallas: Backers of toll road show strong business support

July 17, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Supporters of the Trinity River toll road have spent more than $163,000 to fight a proposed November referendum on whether to scrap the project.

Finance reports filed with the Dallas city secretary's office show that Save the Trinity, a group with strong business support, had raised $146,450 in contributions through Monday.

The largest contribution, $40,950, came from the Dallas Citizens Council. Other big donations came from companies with significant land or business holdings near the Trinity River.

In addition to the money raised from outside contributors, the Trinity Commons Foundation, which created Save the Trinity, has used more than $44,700 of its own funds for what executive director Craig Holcomb called educational efforts related to the toll road,

Most of the money spent by Save the Trinity has gone to political and media consultants, according to the finance reports.

Trinity Commons is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to completion of the Trinity River Corridor Project as approved by the Dallas City Council in 2003.

That project calls for a downtown river park with lakes, trails and other recreational amenities; improved flood controls; and, most controversially, a high-speed toll road inside the river levees that is intended to relieve traffic congestion downtown and on the Stemmons Freeway.

"We think it is important to go ahead and get this project under construction without further delays," said Mr. Holcomb, a former Dallas City Council member who, in addition to running Trinity Commons, is campaign treasurer for Save the Trinity.

Opponents of the tollway, led by City Council member Angela Hunt, say the road would spoil the downtown park. They want a public vote on whether to remove the toll road from the Trinity project.

At the end of June, Ms. Hunt's group, TrinityVote, turned in more than 80,000 signatures calling for a referendum. The city secretary's office is reviewing those signatures. If 48,000 are certified as belonging to registered voters who live in Dallas, the measure will be placed on the November ballot.

Ms. Hunt's group has raised more money (just over $197,700) and spent more (just over $219,000) than the pro-toll road forces, according to TrinityVote's campaign finance reports.

Both sides faced a Monday deadline for filing updated finance reports. A story about TrinityVote's filings appeared in Tuesday's Dallas Morning News. City Secretary Deborah Watkins incorrectly told The News Monday evening that Mr. Holcomb's group had not filed its updated campaign report. In fact, that report was filed June 29, according to copies provided Tuesday by Mr. Holcomb.

Ms. Watkins said she had been misinformed by her staff. "I do apologize for my statement that we had not received it," she said. "I did not know that we had it in."

Donna Halstead, president of the Dallas Citizens Council, said her group enthusiastically supported Save the Trinity's efforts against the November referendum. The nonprofit council represents many of the city's most prominent business and civic leaders. The $40,950 that it donated to Save the Trinity came from dues paid by Citizens Council members, she said.

"We have always been a strong supporter of the Trinity River project," said Ms. Halstead, who also is a former City Council member.

She said the Trinity toll road is a vital part of the overall effort to develop the river for the betterment of downtown and the region.

"We cannot address our air-quality problems or our traffic congestion problems in that [downtown corridor] without this toll road," Ms. Halstead said.

Others who made sizable donations to oppose the toll-road referendum included:

•JPI Multifamily Investments, an Irving-based company that is one of the country's largest apartment developers. It gave Save the Trinity $20,000, according to the group's finance report.

In 2006, The News reported that JPI had bought land near where a dazzling new bridge, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is to cross the river at Woodall Rodgers Freeway. JPI officials were quoted as saying that they planned to build apartments there.

•Crow Holdings, a privately held company that invests in real estate on behalf of the Trammell Crow family and its business partners. It, too, gave Save the Trinity $20,000. Among other holdings, Crow has invested in the Dallas Market Center and the Hilton Anatole, both in the Industrial Boulevard corridor.

Harlan Crow, the chairman and CEO of Crow Holdings, appears in a promotional video on the Save the Trinity Web site. In it, he says of the Trinity River project, "This gives Dallas the opportunity to be a city," instead of just a downtown "office park."

•CH2M Hill, a worldwide engineering and construction concern. It gave $1,500. Last November, the Dallas City Council awarded a $9.6 million contract to CH2M Hill for design of the lakes and other water elements of the Trinity park.

Ms. Hunt, contacted Tuesday, said the sources of Save the Trinity's funding "show very clearly the differences between our supporters and the people on the other side."

"We were fortunate to get some large contributions. But we also had lots of small contributions, people giving us as little as $10 from throughout the city. That's really proof of our broad-based support."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE