Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"If we take another six months to talk about this, we just lost $50 million."

Transportation planner says Trinity toll road vital to area

Dallas: Alternatives to downtown traffic reliever would be too costly, City Council panel told

October 3, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The region's top transportation planner told a Dallas City Council committee Tuesday that killing the Trinity toll road, as a November referendum proposes, would "have devastating consequences for residents of the city."

Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, called the toll road, known as the Trinity Parkway, "the most important thing I see on the transportation horizon for the city of Dallas."

Without it, he said, other plans to address the downtown traffic mess become difficult if not impossible to carry out. Congestion will grow worse, Mr. Morris said, and so will air pollution, as the region adds 1 million new residents every seven years. And, he said, the city will lose an opportunity to improve a dangerous highway intersection and spur economic development in the southern sector.

"The Trinity Parkway ... needs to be built, and it needs to be built as soon as possible," Mr. Morris told members of the City Council's Trinity River committee.

On Nov. 6, Dallas residents will vote on Proposition 1, a ballot measure to abolish the high-speed toll road inside the Trinity River levees. The road has long been planned as part of the Trinity River Corridor project, which also includes a downtown park with lakes and trails, improved flood controls, wetlands, an equestrian center and other features.

Volunteers led by City Council member Angela Hunt gathered signatures this spring to put the measure on the ballot. They contend that having a toll road adjacent to the park will mar what could be a spectacular downtown attraction. They have also questioned the spiraling cost of the toll road, whose price tag is now near $1 billion.

But Mr. Morris said the only other possible route identified for the toll road, along the Industrial Boulevard-Irving Boulevard corridor, would cost an additional $500 million – money that state and regional highway agencies don't have.

Mr. Morris also serves as executive director of the Regional Transportation Council, a body of local officials from throughout North Texas who meet to establish priorities for transportation financing.

That council has a long list of highway projects awaiting funding. "There is no big pot of money with $500 million in it for you to build on Industrial," he said.

The toll road is expected to carry 90,000 to 100,000 cars a day. Without such a "reliever route," Mr. Morris said, a $1 billion state project to rebuild the Mixmaster and Canyon in downtown Dallas becomes exceedingly difficult to pull off. He talked of bumper-to-bumper traffic during what would be a long and unpleasant construction period.

Neither Ms. Hunt nor other representatives of those supporting Proposition 1 returned telephone calls seeking comment on Mr. Morris' remarks.

Ms. Hunt is not a member of the City Council's Trinity River committee, having been excluded from that panel by Mayor Tom Leppert, who supports the toll road and is campaigning against Proposition 1.

The Trinity Parkway would run about nine miles, from U.S. Highway 175 southeast of downtown to where State Highway 183 splits off from Stemmons Freeway near Texas Stadium.

At its southern end, the toll road would eliminate what many South Dallas residents regard as an eyesore and a safety hazard: the elevated S.M. Wright Freeway, which makes an abrupt, almost 90-degree turn where it becomes C.F. Hawn Freeway.

Locals refer to the sharp turn in the 43-year-old freeway as "Dead Man's Corner." Mr. Morris called it a "safety nightmare."

"I don't think you would ever have seen that built in North Dallas," Mr. Morris said. "I'm ashamed as an engineer that that turn exists."

Council member Dwaine Caraway, whose district is near the interchange, said removing it and rebuilding S.M. Wright Freeway as a boulevard at ground level would be a great benefit for the neighborhood.

"Imagine the economic development that could take place along a new, landscaped road at ground level," he said. "That is a tremendous opportunity."

In urging quick action to get the Trinity Parkway built, Mr. Morris said highway construction costs are going up about 10 percent a year, mostly because of rising prices for materials.

On a $1 billion project, that's $100 million a year.

"So if we take another six months to talk about this, we just lost $50 million," he said.

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