How Katrina Court Decision May Affect Trinity Project

Last week, a U.S. federal court judge slapped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers up one side and down the other for its part in the Katrina tragedy.  Citing the Corps’ “monumental negligence,” Judge Duval berated the Corps for focusing on waterway improvements to satisfy the needs of commercial shipping interests rather than ensuring flood control safety for New Orleans residents:

[T]he needs of the maritime industry were a substantial focus for the Corps activities as concerned the [Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet project].  At the same time, however, the safety of the citizenry of the metropolitan New Orleans area was another of its charges….The tension as to which client’s needs were more important plays a decisive role in this tragedy….[T]he Corps clearly took the position that its primary mission was to keep the shipping channel open to deep draft traffic regardless of the consequences.

As the Corps reviews and considers Dallas’ Trinity Toll Road and bridges, this significant court decision underscores the Corps’ responsibility to place the safety of Dallas residents first.  A tension exists in Dallas, as it did in New Orleans, between transportation desires and levee safety.  This court decision leaves no doubt that safety must be paramount.

Today’s Dallas Morning News has a good story by Michael Lindenberger about the effect that the federal court decision may have on Dallas’ Trinity River Project:

The corps made big mistakes over the years leading up to Katrina, said University of Texas at Dallas President David E. Daniel, a civil engineer who was chairman of a national panel of civil engineers who reviewed the failure of the levees.[Daniel] said it’s easy for residents, in both Dallas and New Orleans, to overlook a potential for disaster. Catastrophe isn’t always the first thing Dallas residents think of when they view the usually docile Trinity River.“But I can speak to another parallel [between the situation here and in New Orleans],” he said. “Even in New Orleans these devastating hurricanes of the Katrina type are extraordinarily rare. Decades go by with nothing particularly serious happening. It lulls you into a false sense of security, until that extreme event hits.”

“The corps did not place the health and safety of the public at the top of their agenda,” Daniel said Monday. “Their designs were not safe enough. So we certainly would hope that they are being more deliberate now.”…