Monday, February 16, 2009

"Dallas residents do no want the corps to expedite its review process at the expense of safety."

Angela Hunt says Tom Leppert's lobbying on Trinity toll road project is troubling


The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

A successful effort by Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert to prod the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into paying closer attention to the Trinity River toll road project drew a sharp response this weekend from the road's chief opponent.

In a letter to top corps officials in Texas, Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt urged them not to be pressured to hurry their evaluation of the road project.

"I am writing to assure you that Dallas residents do no want the corps to expedite its review process at the expense of safety," Hunt wrote.

Leppert has been concerned about the project's schedule.

He wants to see construction completed on the toll road by 2014, an aggressive schedule that has increasingly come into doubt.

The corps is not involved in the construction or engineering of the road, but it is responsible for reviewing all elements of the project to ensure the integrity of the Trinity River levees, which are designed to prevent flooding.

Increasingly, city officials and Trinity project backers have been frustrated at the corps' pace in approving preliminary engineering work on the project.

In Washington last week, Leppert met with top corps officials, and with U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, to discuss concerns about the project.

After that meeting, the corps appointed a high-level employee to act as "director of the Dallas floodway."

That director will use an office near City Hall and be completely dedicated to the Trinity project, corps officials said.

Leppert said he has never asked the corps to compromise its review of the toll road project, but he has been concerned with the agency's communication with the city and the North Texas Tollway Authority, which will construct and manage the road.

Hunt called Leppert's lobbying of the corps and Texas' congressional delegation troubling.

"[T]he corps is not a 'partner' with the City on this project, but rather a critical regulatory agency tasked with ensuring the levee testing plan, as well as all aspects of the toll road construction proposal, to be certain that the levees are in no way compromised," she wrote.

In November 2007, Hunt led an unsuccessful effort to stop the toll road's construction through a citywide referendum.

© 2009 The Dallas Morning News:

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