Friday, February 06, 2009

"I think a lot of those voters wouldn’t mind a do-over."

Stuck in Park: Dallas’ Trinity Parkway has a budget deficit of a billion dollars. Seriously.


By Matt Pulle
Texas Watchdog
Copyright 2009

It’s exceedingly rare in politics for one side in a campaign to be proven right so quickly, but that’s what’s happened in Dallas’ Trinity River debate.

In November 2007, voters here chose to construct a $1.8 billion toll road on top of the levees as part of the city’s decade-long Trinity River Project. And now, a year and a half later, I think a lot of those voters wouldn’t mind a do-over.

Throughout the campaign, opponents of the highway—a scattered coalition of fiscal conservatives, young progressives and East Dallas neighborhood types–brought up two main points: One, there wasn’t nearly enough funding to build the road. Two, it would be impossible, if not dangerous, to build a toll road in a floodplain with downtown Dallas in the path of that flood.

Today, the Dallas Morning News, which endorsed the plan to build the highway, reported that “the Trinity Parkway could cost close to $1 billion more than the North Texas Tollway Authority can afford to pay to build it.” That’s because the toll road will simply not generate enough in user fees to pay for its construction.

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, another major proponent of the toll road with egg on his face, said that there may be other sources the city can dip into, but a billion dollar deficit won’t exactly be covered by a few creative grants. This project, which has already been delayed countless times, is in serious trouble, which you can read about here and here.

The second point the opponents of the road made was that the highway would require an engineering marvel the likes of which would be revered for centuries thereafter the way we now look at the pyramids or the coliseum. I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. In any case, in the same Morning News story about the billion-dollar deficit, we learn that the opponents are almost certainly right about their second bone of contention.

“A project like the Trinity Parkway is different than anything we have ever done before,” said Gene Rice, the Trinity project manager for the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] Fort Worth office. “It’s got its own learning curve for everybody. It is such an unusual use of the flood plain inside a federal flood-control project.”

Now Rice is optimistic the tricky highway can be built. … if, of course, the sky is the limit:

“I honestly believe there is an engineering solution to everything,” Rice said. “But it’s just a matter of how much money and time you want to spend to solve it.”

That’s reassuring.

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