Deja Vu All Over Again: Toll Road Continues to Slow Down Critical Levee Improvements

Sunday’s Dallas Morning News featured an article by Michael Lindenberger titled “Analysis:  Dallas’ crucial levees only weakened amid debate on park, toll road.”

Well, no, actually the park debate (by which I assume the DMN means the referendum to remove the toll road from the floodway) did not slow, even by a day, improvements to our levee system or lack thereof.  But let’s set that aside for a bit.

Perhaps the more important question is:  Is the fact that critical levee improvements have been hijacked by the Trinity Toll Road actually news to anyone who’s been following this issue?

Let me take you back over a year ago, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed the city that our levees were rated “unacceptable” under the new federal standards.   The day after that announcement, the council voted to fund a study to determine the extent of the failures and plan for remediation.  It was crystal clear then (and frankly, before then) that the city’s insistence on intertwining the levee improvements with the toll road had slowed flood control improvements for years.  Take a look at the council meeting beginning at 01:59 where I point out that the mayor and council’s fixation on placing the toll road within the floodway has hopelessly intertwined the toll road with the levee improvements, thus grinding critical flood control measures to a halt.  That were it not for the toll road’s interminable delays, we could move forward on much-needed levee improvements.

That’s not news over a year later.  What’s news is that the mayor, city council, and city manager still refuse to acknowledge this reality and sever the two projects.  We can move forward on our levee improvements if we have the political will to put the safety of our residents ahead of this toll road.

In his article, Lindenberger states without attribution or explanation, “[I]n 2007, council member Angela Hunt led a referendum aimed at preventing a toll road from being built within the levees, citing worries about costs and impact on the parks. Things came to a halt again.”

Absolutely not true.  Take a look at 02:27.  No one at the city, NTTA or Corps ever stated that the referendum was slowing down their “progress” (or lack thereof) on flood control matters.  To the contrary; city staff was adamant that the project was proceeding full-speed ahead, despite the referendum.

So I challenge Michael Lindenberger to back up his statement that the referendum delayed much-needed levee improvements by even one day.  What particular aspect of the levee project “came to a halt”?  At what point did flood control plans halt due to the referendum and later resume and who made those decisions?  What evidence exists to support this unsubstantiated claim?

Aside from this clearly erroneous assertion, there is no news in this article.  The city has known for decades that our levees are in critical condition.  The mayor, council, and city manager have known for years that by interlocking the toll road with levee improvements we are irresponsibly and interminably delaying flood control safety.

Recently, city staff estimated that bringing our levees up to federal standards will cost somewhere in the range of $50 to $150 million.  Right now, $46 million remains of the 1998 bond funds allocated to the toll road.

What will be news is when the mayor and council decide to actually put flood control safety first and not just talk about it — when the city finally decides to cut its losses on the failed, unfunded, and unapproved toll road and shift that $46 million to critically-needed levee improvements.  That will be news.