City Should Use Trinity Toll Road Money to Fund Levee Study

Today the city council decided to take $4.75 million from Trinity Park bond funds to pay for a federally-required levee study. I voted against this and instead proposed that we use Trinity Toll Road bond money to pay for the study.

The toll road isn’t going to happen. The NTTA has said they are more than a billion dollars short in funding for the road. There are no “buckets of money” to dip into that the mayor once proclaimed were lying around for the road. The NTTA has also said that due to its current project commitments, it wouldn’t even be able to consider any other projects for five years. So, realistically speaking, the toll road is dead.

So if the toll road is dead, and the park is still viable, why on earth would we divert funds from the park instead of the toll road? We must move forward on flood safety improvements, so there’s no question we need to fund the federal levee study, and quickly. But take the money from a project that is clearly stalled, and let us get going on some park improvements that we can enjoy now.

Here’s a wrap-up of some recent news articles about the Trinity Toll Road:

“Dallas diverts Trinity bond funds to levee repairs” by Rudy Bush (Dallas Morning News)

Dallas has shifted tens of millions of dollars in Trinity River bond funds to study and repair its substandard levee system but so far has declined to use money set aside for the stalled Trinity toll road project.

Instead, $27 million has been diverted from the reconstruction of a critical floodwater pumping station along the river to form the bulk of funds for a major study of the levee system.

And today, the City Council is poised to advance an additional $4.75 million – originally intended for construction of the Trinity lakes – toward a feasibility study aimed at ensuring the levees’ future soundness.

Yet even as talk at City Hall shifts toward the possibility of holding a bond election to fund major levee repairs, there has been little discussion about using any part of $46.3 million in unspent bond funds set aside for the toll road.

“Council approves $4.75 million advance to Corps for Trinity flood control study; money comes from lakes bond money” by Steve Thompson (DMN City Hall Blog)

The City Council just approved an advance of $4.75 million – originally intended for construction of the Trinity lakes – toward a feasibility study aimed at ensuring the levees’ future soundness….

The lone dissent came from council member Angela Hunt, who said that rather than take the money from lakes funds, it should be taken from funds designated for the toll road, the prospects for which look dimmer than ever.

“So instead of using funds for the park and lakes, let’s use funds that essentially don’t have any use right now,” she said. “We cannot possibly go forward on this project that is – that is dead.”

Hunt went on: “We’re going to have to at some point admit that this toll road isn’t going to happen, and for us to throw up our hands or put our head in the sand and just pretend that this toll road’s going to get done at any cost – let me say that cost is for Dallas tax payers to bear the burden — and It’s disingenuous of us to continue on this path and tell voters that it makes sense for us to cont to spend money on a toll road that’s not going to get done.”

“Jacquielynn Floyd: How long can we stay stuck on the parkway?” (Dallas Morning News)

The hour is growing awfully dark for the Trinity Parkway, the hard-fought plan to run a major reliever road for Dallas’ painfully overloaded downtown freeways inside the river levees….

Yet way back in some timid, worrying part of my noggin, the lobe that frets about swine flu and engine noises and termites, the anxious question persists: But y’all do have a backup plan, right?

….[T]his plan really seems beset by staggering obstacles. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, permanently snakebit by the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, has repeatedly raised concerns about the Trinity levees, pushing the construction start back, and back again.

Cost estimates have increased – a lot – while funding sources are shriveling.

“Trinity toll road faces levee work delays” by Michael Lindenberger (Dallas Morning News)

The prospects for the Trinity Parkway are dimmer now than they have been in years.

A top city official said last week that the toll road again will be delayed by problems with the Trinity River levees. Work to shore up flood protection will push the road’s schedule beyond the mid-2012 start date that Mayor Tom Leppert set last year when worries first surfaced about the integrity of the 80-year-old levees downtown….

For years, and throughout the 2007 campaign, city officials touted an understanding with the NTTA that limits Dallas’ share of the road’s cost to $84 million. But since then, the price has continued to grow, and NTTA has said its ability to pay the difference has disappeared “for the foreseeable future.”

“Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: Yet Again, The Dallas News Rewrites the History of Trinity River Toll Road” by Jim Schutze (Dallas Observer)

Yesterday’s paper was, for me, heaven-sent. There, on Page One, was a story by transportation reporter Michael A. Lindenberger revealing that every single thing Dallas city council member Angela Hunt has said about the toll road has turned out to be true. It revealed that Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert has engaged in egregious untruths about the project….

In the 2007 referendum on plans to build a new super-highway through downtown, Hunt made two main arguments: The design of the road, which called for it to be built out between the levees in the river’s floodway, is unsafe and unsound. And in part because of this massive design flaw, the road will be far too expensive to build.

Linderberger’s story concedes that plans for the toll road went awry “after planners decided it should be built between the levees.” The story makes it clear that funding for the project is at least a billion dollars short of the cost.

So doesn’t that make Hunt 100 percent right and Leppert 110 percent wrong?