Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"It's supposed to be a park project and it's turned out to be a highway project."

Trinity Toll Road Debate Draws Hundreds


Shelley Kofler,
Copyright 2007

DALLAS, TX--In one corner, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Former Council member Veletta Forsythe-Lill. In the other, Councilwoman Angela Hunt and Former Council member Sandy Greyson. Tuesday night the two sides came out swinging, challenging each others' arguments during a debate on the merits of the Trinity Toll Road.

The exchange packed an auditorium in Dallas' Oak Cliff.

Dallas Council member Angela Hunt set the tone with this opening statement:

Hunt: This toll road is a financial disaster.

Mayor Tom Leppert called the toll road the only cost effective way to keep traffic moving near downtown Dallas.

Leppert: "If we don't address congestion we are going to limit the opportunities of this entire city."

The toll road in question is the six-lane high speed toll road to be built inside the Trinity River levees. More than a decade in planning, it would parallel almost 10 miles of the Trinity as it sluggishly flows past downtown Dallas.

Hunt is the council member who led the effort for a November referendum that allows Dallas voters to kill the toll road.

Hunt: "This toll road began with a $400 million dollars back in 1998. Today the toll road has shot up to 1.3 billion dollars. So why? It's simple. No one's ever built a road before like this in a floodway. Why? Because it's a floodway. It's going to narrow our channel. It's going to reduce the area where our water can travel."

Hunt claims that would lead to swifter moving flood waters that might damage the levees.

She challenged the mayor with this question:

Hunt: "Can you name five roads built in a floodway?

Mayor Leppert didn't produce names but provided a defense.

Leppert: "They said the same thing about the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. They said that's never been built so why should we do it? If we take the premise that it's never been done before, think of the opportunities we lose. The reality of it is both the Army Corps, TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) and the NTTA (North Texas Tollway Authority) has studied this and they say it's safe, it's environmentally sensitive and economically viable."

With a standing-room-only crowd of about 250, Mayor Leppert argued that and East- West toll road near downtown is essential for easing traffic gridlock in a newly designed, safer Dallas Mixmaster. He said the levee route is the only one that will attract state and federal dollars, which make up most of that $1-billion dollar price tag.

Leppert: "We need this road if we are ever going to do work on the Mixmaster. Without addressing the traffic issues we'll never be able to work on 35 we'll never be able to do work on 67, and we'll lose $1-billion dollars that is not coming from the citizens of Dallas."

The increased traffic jams would also increase air pollution in a city where the federal government has threatened to cut off highway money if improvements aren't made.

The two sides debated the viability of moving the road to Industrial Boulevard. Leppert said that would only escalate costs.

Leppert: "We would need to buy about 800 parcels of land and relocate between 200 and 300 businesses."

Hunt's debate partner, former councilmember Sandy Greyson, believes planners didn't ever really consider a route other than the one inside the levees, and she wants them to do that. She believes a high-speed road inside the levees would ruin the river park designed to be about the size of New York's Central Park.

Greyson: "You can't pave your way out of congestion."

Debate ended with citizens posing questions and with some taking sides. Against the toll road:

Toll road opponent: "It's supposed to be a park project and it's turned out to be a highway project."

Toll road supporter: "As a citizen of Oak Cliff I'm tired of sitting in traffic 20-30 minutes just to get to Uptown four miles from here."

In these final weeks before the November 6 vote, both sides are arguing their convictions again and again in numerous debates. They say they share their views whereever they can, because Dallas' future is riding on the outcome.

© 2007 KERA:

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