Friday, October 26, 2007

Trinity Toll Road Backers: "Prisoners of their own peculiar worldview."

Don't let toll road ruin our defining parkland

Vote yes so that the Trinity parkland can be ours

October 26, 2007

Victoria Loe Hicks
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Which is more integral to New York City's greatness: Central Park or TriBeCa? Which does more to shape the character of Washington: the National Mall or Adams Morgan? When the fires die down and tourists return to San Diego, what will draw them: the beach or the Gaslamp Quarter?

Proven fact: Great public spaces define great cities. Corollary: The world's hippest, slickest, coolest, made-over neighborhood will never do what Central Park does for New York, the Mall does for Washington or the beach does for San Diego.

That's why, if we need another highway downtown, it should be built along Industrial Boulevard in the Trinity Industrial District rather than inside the Trinity River levees – the one space that has the potential to lift Dallas' public realm from mediocrity to greatness.

To understand why almost everybody who is anybody in this town wants to put the toll road right beside the river, it is necessary to know a little history. A century ago, the Trinity was prone to occasional but devastating floods. So some folks, including Leslie Stemmons and G.B. Dealey, founder of The Dallas Morning News, came up with a plan to move the river about a quarter-mile to the west, straighten it and hem it in with levees.

The plan, which was accomplished in the 1930s, was a boon to the public. It had the side benefit of making the Stemmons crowd – which had bought lots of land in the one-time floodplain that became the Trinity Industrial District – oodles of money.

The people who are pushing for a toll road inside the levees are the blood and corporate heirs of those original visionaries. It is in their cultural DNA to believe that the highest and best use for the river is to manipulate it to pave the way – in this case, literally – for private development.

In fact, they envision it happening in the very same spot as before: the Trinity Industrial District – which, despite its current junky appearance, is ideally positioned to become Dallas' next TriBeCa. If only the rest of us will cooperate by giving away part of our river park for free to build the toll road, the people who own land in the industrial district will redevelop it with swanky lofts and eateries and such.

Even if the toll road gets built along Industrial Boulevard, most of that redevelopment will occur, and many of them will make big bucks. But some will have to sell their land to make way for the road, and that does not make them happy. Hence, their generous donations to our City Council members and the "Vote No" campaign.

They are good people. Many of them have done good things for this city. On this issue, though, they are prisoners of their own peculiar worldview.

The road-beside-the-river gang insists that building along Industrial would be far more costly than in the riverbed. That's because they're counting on us to give up a big swath of parkland for free. But the cost of building beside the river has skyrocketed and will continue to – precisely because building a highway in an area designed to carry floodwaters is, to put it mildly, very, very tricky.

The road-beside-the-river folks also warn that if we vote against them, we will lose $1 billion in funding for the road. First of all, there's no reason that should actually happen. And second, nobody's giving us that money. It's from taxes on gasoline and tolls on local highways – money we pay.

Even if it came from the Tooth Fairy, $1 billion, used wrongly, just does $1 billion worth of damage. If the Tooth Fairy offered New Yorkers $1 billion on the condition that they build a big, honking toll road right through Central Park, would they be wise to accept it?

Would the San Diego-based Allen Group, which owns the site of Dallas' new inland port and which is bankrolling the road-beside-the-river campaign, be so quick to support putting a toll road on the beach?

There are two kinds of green: money and the other kind, the kind you can vote for by voting yes on Proposition 1.

Victoria Loe Hicks lives in Oak Cliff. She covered the Trinity River project for The Dallas Morning News from 2000 to 2003. Her e-mail address is

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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