We Must Fix Our Levees NOW

I was very concerned to see that the U.S. Corps of Engineers has deemed the safety of Dallas’ levees “unacceptable.” The Corps revised their safety standards after the Katrina tragedy, and re-evaluated Dallas’ levees under this new system. They announced the results of their review yesterday.

I was surprised that our levees failed to meet the new standards since the Mayor just got back from lobbying our Congressional delegation to pressure the Corps into speeding up their safety evaluation of the Trinity toll road, which is to be built within the levees. If you’ve been following this issue, you know that no major road like this has ever been built within a levee system. Knowing that our levees do not meet the Corps’ new safety standards, I think it’s irresponsible to lobby the Corps to speed up what should be a thoughtful, deliberate safety review of an untested engineering design like the toll road. Rushing to pour millions of tons of concrete into an already unsafe levee system is a dangerous plan that could have dire consequences.

In light of the Corps’ safety analysis, it is clear that we need to fix our levees NOW. Not next year, not five years from now, not after a catastrophic flood, but today. But the toll road is holding up our levee improvements. We cannot fix all the safety problems with our levees until the design of this toll road is completed. As long as the toll road is part of the equation, all those parts have to be built to work together, and if we don’t have the design for the road, we can’t plan the design for the levees, and we certainly can’t fix them.

The fact is, this toll road project is dead. There’s no funding for it. Despite the Mayor’s assurances during the Trinity referendum to the contrary, the NTTA just admitted that the toll road is facing a billion dollar funding shortfall. If the Corps is allowed to do their job without political manipulation, the toll road will likely face even more delays as a result of their new safety review. If we continue on this course, if we ignore the obvious warning signs and stubbornly plow ahead, the safety needs of our levees will continue to languish and be held hostage by this white elephant of a toll road for years to come. The dirt will not fly. The Mayor’s 2013 deadline for toll road completion will come and go, the toll road cost will double again, and the funding gap will increase exponentially.

In another ten years, 2019, future city officialls will reluctantly admit that putting the toll road between the levees is not a viable, fundable option. The toll road will finally die with a whimper, and we will have wasted twenty years and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars without the levee improvements we so desperately need. It’s time to change course and admit today that this toll road won’t work, and find a better way to address our transporation needs without delaying or compromising the safety of our flood levees.