Thursday, October 25, 2007

"This vote is all about the road – not the park."

Vote yes to save money and don't worry about imprecise scare tactics from the other side

October 25, 2007

Donna Blumer
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

It's Halloween season, and we expect some scary things to come our way. But who was expecting the downright spooky numbers the Trinity "Vote No" campaign has been tossing at us in literature and debates?

The scariest number, of course, is the "$1 billion in funding" that campaign's mailer claims the city will lose if we vote to place restrictions on the proposed Trinity toll road. The restrictions would limit the road to 35 mph and four lanes and require that it provide direct park access.

My question to referendum opponents: "What $1 billion are you talking about?" They fail to answer with any specificity.

Could they be talking about $1 billion in federal money? No. Federal money for the Trinity River Project is for flood control, which in no way would be affected by the Proposition 1 vote. As a matter of fact, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who heads the subcommittee responsible for such funding, has said specifically that this money will be available whichever way the vote goes.

Perhaps they're referring to the money to pay for the toll road itself? No. Most of the toll road's cost – no matter where it's built, inside or outside the levees – will be paid by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Well, maybe the opposition is referring, in part, to the $6 million the Dallas County Commissioners Court has threatened to withhold from funding the Calatrava bridges if the yes side prevails. Wrong again. Once it was pointed out that the $6 million is contingent only on the building of a reliever road, regardless of its location relative to the levees, there has been no more heard about that.

Let's look at another scary claim by the pro-toll-road crowd, which threatens that a yes vote will result in unnecessary new taxes. Why? How? The fact is, putting this road within our levees is a frightening proposition for Dallas taxpayers. Eighty percent of the traffic on the toll road will be non-Dallas drivers cutting through our city. Yet Dallas taxpayers are being asked to sacrifice parkland and subsidize construction of this route; the city of Dallas is giving the NTTA $84 million in taxpayer funds to help build the toll road, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free parkland, without compensation.

And to top it off, Dallas drivers then must pay to use the road.

What about the private money that referendum opponents claim will be lost? The bulk of the money from private sources has been designated for park amenities, which will not be affected by the Nov. 6 vote. To my knowledge, no philanthropist has said publicly that his or her money will be withheld because of the outcome of the vote. Park attractions like the new Equestrian Center, Elm Fork Soccer Complex and Audubon Center will continue to be funded through bond money already approved. They will not be affected if the reliever road is moved outside the levees.

This vote is all about the road – not the park.

But let's look at some genuinely scary numbers that can be verified.

The projected cost of building the toll road within the levees is $1.3 billion. That number has more than tripled from its original price tag of $394 million in 1998. Why? Could it be because of the extraordinary engineering difficulties of designing and building a six-lane, high-speed highway at the bottom of a conduit for all the water run-off in the region?

The opposition claims the cost escalation is the result of "inflation." However, the just-completed Dallas North Tollway extension in Frisco, comparable in length and width to the proposed Trinity toll road, cost only $264 million. Both numbers are in today's dollars.

One wonders how much more the cost of the Trinity toll road will increase before its design and environmental impact studies are completed.

Now that's downright frightening.

Donna Blumer is a former Dallas City Council member. Her e-mail address is

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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