Thursday, November 01, 2007

"We should be understanding of what we have here before we try to change it. The Trinity is not a problem to be fixed."

Army Corp Has Not "Signed Off" On Trinity Toll Road


Shelley Kofler
Copyright 2007

DALLAS, TX-Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, a supporter of the planned Dallas toll road, said in a debate the Army Corp of Engineers has signed off on the plan to build the road in the Trinity floodway. But the Army Corp tells KERA it's way too early for that. As part of our continuing series, The Trinity Decision, KERA's Shelley Kofler takes a look at the toll road and flood control, as she travels down the river.


Allen: "I love the river"

Charles Allen has been canoeing the Trinity River in Dallas for 30 years, guiding groups through a vast urban wilderness rarely found in large cities.

Allen: "We are in the middle of the Dallas floodway. It's about 2000 acres of grassland, wetlands, riparian habitat. Great birdlife out here."

Reporter/Allen: "Is this a beaver dam? A beaver den. There they go!"

We're paddling about five miles from Sylvan Avenue to Illinois, to get a feel for how the proposed toll road inside the levee might affect the river's primary function, as Dallas' floodway. It's a waterway that swells during downpours, rising above its dry weather banks to submerge the grassy fields and forest around it.

Allen: "The floodway is our flood protection. It holds waters when they come through from upstream and moves them out of the central core of Dallas. There is a huge watershed upstream, over six-thousand square miles. The Upper Trinity Basin is shaped like a big funnel from Gainsville to Witchita Falls and it all drains through the Dallas floodway."

Allen takes seriously the vital role the Trinity plays in protecting downtown Dallas from flooding, which is why he opposes putting massive structures like a toll road in the path of swift moving water.

Allen: "Our floodway is kinda like a big bucket. It holds only so much water. And if you put a brick in that bucket it's not going to hold as much water. The brick in our bucket would be the toll road. We need every bit of room out in the floodway to hold the waters that come from upstream."

Supporters of putting a toll road inside the levee say they understand the science involved, and they have a plan for building the road without creating a flood hazard. They'll dig a lake in the floodway - and use the scooped out dirt as a base for the road. Nothing new added to the floodway.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, leading the toll road effort, has said the agency in charge of protecting the waterway, the US Army Corp of Engineers, has signed off on the plan.

Leppert: "The Corps has signed off on the safety issues. They signed off on the
environmental issues. They feel very comfortable with it."

But the Corps' Trinity Corridor Project Manager Gene Rice says the road is yet to be approved. There's no final design.

Rice: " We've made no determination at this time on whether the project will be acceptable or not. We are still working with the transportation interests to make sure it could go in safely if it goes in. But no determination has been made or will be made for several years."

Mayor Leppert later told us he didn't mean a final sign off , but a sign off of the direction the city's going in.

The mayor and Rice both know it's a direction that will require time.

Rice: This is a very complex project. We have never dealt with people putting facilities in the floodway itself. We've never had anybody in this district want to put a major road in a floodway. A lot of recreation features. You have to remember how big of a plan the city has. How many amenities they want to put in to the floodway. Whether it's the park roads, whether it's the ball fields whether it's the whitewater courses. We take it step by step.

Rice says the Army Corps judges each feature's effect on the waterway separately, in the order the city presents them.

Rice: The water cannot go up and it can't go faster. It can't raise the water downstream or upstream. It has to keep it as it functions today.

City toll road supporters say they're up to the engineering challenge.

But on the river, as great blue heron glide by and Charles Allen steers the canoe past stands of black willow and green ash he worries about what may be lost.

Allen: "We've just entered the Great Trinity Forest past the Old Sante Fe Trestle from 1895. We should be understanding of what we have here before we try to change it. The Trinity is not a problem to be fixed."

To view video of a canoe trip on the Trinity, and to find all the stories in our series go to KERA-dot-org and click on the Trinity Decision link. Tomorrow we conclude our series with a report on the economics of building the toll road.

© 2007 KERA:

Related post from TrinityVote: "Again with the 'L' Word"

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