Wednesday, September 26, 2007

No other U.S. city has tried to build a toll road in a floodway. Why? "Because it's a floodway."

Leppert, Hunt debate merits of Trinity plan

Hundreds turn up to hear arguments at first big forum on issue

September 25, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The two sides in the Trinity toll road debate agreed Tuesday night that Dallas voters have a rare opportunity, come November, to shape the city's future.

They disagreed on just about everything else.

In a debate at Rosemont Primary School in Oak Cliff, supporters and opponents of a fall referendum on the toll road painted dramatically different pictures of what is at stake in that election.

By voting for Proposition 1 and killing the high-speed toll road inside the Trinity River levees, Dallas residents can "transform our Trinity River Corridor into one of the most beautiful parks in the country," said Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, the leader of the anti-toll-road forces. She called the road a boondoggle with an ever-spiraling price tag, an eyesore that will eat up parkland and threaten the integrity of the floodway.

Mayor Tom Leppert, who is campaigning aggressively to defeat Proposition 1, said that if Ms. Hunt's side prevails, downtown traffic, already awful, would get worse; the city would lose $1 billion in highway money and other funds; and the entire Trinity River project, including the downtown park that Ms. Hunt so cherishes, would be delayed another five or 10 years.

"It is time to say no to further delays," the mayor said.

The debate, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was one of the largest forums to date on Proposition 1, a measure placed on the ballot after Ms. Hunt gathered thousands of signatures to force the referendum.

About 320 people attended. There was standing room only in the school's auditorium.

Ms. Hunt was joined in arguing for Proposition 1 – against the toll road – by former Dallas City Council member Sandy Greyson.

Mr. Leppert was joined in opposing the proposition – speaking for the toll road – by former Dallas City Council member Veletta Lill.

Neither side broke much new ground. Ms. Hunt talked repeatedly about what a gem the riverside park can be. She said that when voters approved a $246 million bond issue for the Trinity project in 1998, they thought they were voting for a low-speed boulevard, not a multi-lane freeway.

Mr. Leppert said repeatedly that the highway is needed to alleviate downtown congestion. The only possible alternative route, he said, is along Industrial Boulevard, where hundreds of parcels would have to be acquired, hundreds of businesses would have to be moved, and costly condemnation litigation would almost surely ensue.

"There are no alternatives to the current alignment," he said. "There's no backup."

Ms. Lill told the audience, which included many Oak Cliff residents, that a highway along the Industrial corridor would further isolate Oak Cliff from the rest of the city, while the Trinity project – including the park and a riverside tollway – would bring Dallas together.

But Ms. Hunt was steadfast: You don't wreck what could be Dallas' Central Park by plunking down a highway next to it.

She said no other U.S. city has tried to build a toll road in a floodway.

"Why? Because it's a floodway."

Mr. Leppert, the former head of a giant construction company, retorted that just because something hadn't been done before didn't mean it couldn't be done now. He said one could have raised the same objection about the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and the Eiffel Tower. And he added that the Army Corps of Engineers had assured him that putting the toll road inside the levees could be done safely.

The format of Tuesday's debate allowed each side to ask the other side questions directly.

But that didn't mean they got direct answers.

Ms. Hunt and Ms. Greyson were repeatedly pressed by the mayor and Ms. Lill to name an alternative route for the tollway. Neither did, beyond Ms. Hunt vaguely suggesting that it could go around, rather than through, the city.

The second time she was asked, she turned the question around – and drew rousing applause:

"There are lots of places we can put this road, and only one place we can put the park," she said. "So where is your alternative for the park?"

Ms. Hunt accused the toll road backers of misleading the public – now and back in 1998. She asked Mr. Leppert and Ms. Lill why, if what was envisioned all along was a toll road, the 1998 ballot spoke of a "Trinity Parkway."

Neither Mr. Leppert nor Ms. Lill offered an explanation for that choice of wording.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE