Trinity Toll Road Update: Deja Vu All Over Again

Last year, Larry Beasley presented the “Dream Team’s” Charrette Report to the Council. The Report rejected Alternative 3C’s design for the Trinity Parkway and called for a smaller, slower park road. For the past eight months, a technical design team has been further engineering plans for the road.

For the past two months, the Trinity Parkway Advisory Committee has been meeting behind closed doors to review the resulting technical design of the Trinity Parkway. Councilmember Sandy Greyson and former NTTA Chair Jere Thompson were appointed by the mayor to lead the committee. They each appointed three other members: Councilmember Greyson appointed me, Rep. Rafael Anchia, and Bob Meckfessel. Mr. Thompson appointed Ambassador Ron Kirk, Chancellor Lee Jackson, and Mary Ceverha. Our task was to advise the council as to whether the technical design accurately followed the original Charrette Vision.

The Advisory Committee’s work is completed and today the Committee made presentations to the Dallas City Council Transportation and Trinity River Committee. Our Committee was not in agreement. Rep. Rafael Anchia and I presented our conclusions. You can read our report and read our statement to the committee.

To cut to the chase: Last year we thought we were (finally) getting a low-speed, meandering park access road. Instead, according to the technical design, we are getting a highway.

The design and geometry of the road will allow for high speeds: the meanders have been straightened, the lanes widened, the deceleration lanes to parking areas lengthened, and the shoulders turned from grass to gravel. At every decision tree, at every fork in the road, design choices were made to make the road straighter, wider, longer, and faster. (Check out the animation and read the briefing to the council committee.)

At the conclusion of the presentations, we were glad that the committee agreed that the public should (finally) have the opportunity to weigh in on this project. The council committee wants more public input before the road moves to 65% design. But the chair of the committee, Councilmember Lee Kleinman, stated that he wanted a “brief” period of public input, “like 30 days.”

Your voices will be very important in this conversation. We have seen this all before. This is the Balanced Vision Plan round 2.

More to come….

Angela

Moving Forward on the Trinity Park

What a great day for the City of Dallas!

Since 1998, when voters approved the Trinity River Corridor Project, Dallas residents have looked forward to the day that they would see the immense greenspace between our levees transformed into an incredible urban park.

We are excited to announce that that vision will finally become a reality.

Last summer, Councilmember Scott Griggs and I met up at the Trinity Overlook and walked down the length of the Trinity Floodway.  We talked about how amazing it would be to create trails along the Trinity River that would draw people to this hidden gem in the heart of our city.  

Hike and bike trails have proven incredibly popular in Dallas.  Visit the Katy Trail on a beautiful day and you’ll find it packed with cyclists and joggers and baby strollers and skaters and walkers.  There is clearly an overwhelming demand for urban trails in Dallas.

So when city staff informed us three weeks ago that the city had an additional $42m available in the upcoming 2012 bond program, and each council district and the mayor would have the opportunity to program $2.8m towards bond projects, we saw the perfect opportunity to finally move forward on the Trinity Park.

We allocated all of our combined $5.6m towards the construction of floodway maintenance roads along the Trinity River that can also serve as hike and bike trails.  The mayor joined us, contributing half a million dollars, and shared our enthusiasm about moving forward on the Trinity Park.  

With over six million dollars, we will be able to build a 4.5 mile, winding, 16 foot wide concrete road down in the floor of the floodway, stretching from the Sylvan Bridge to the Santa Fe Trestle in Moore Park. (To put this in perspective, the Katy Trail is 3.75 miles long.) Only occasionally will maintenance vehicles use this road, and it will be closed to public vehicles. The rest of the time, it can be used as a hike and bike trail.

One of the most important aspects of this project is the linkages it will create between north and south Dallas.  This project will connect the Trinity Strand Trail, the Katy Trail, the Continental pedestrian bridge, Coombs Creek Trail, Eloise Lundy Park, and the Santa Fe Trail.

The next step is for voters to approve the 2012 Bond Program in November (this project will be part of the Streets Proposition). If that passes, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gives us the go ahead, the project could be finished as early as mid-2014.

Today is the first step towards a dream so many of us have had, for so long, for the Trinity River:  To transform this beautiful natural asset into a great urban park.  Despite our different perspectives on the Trinity Toll Road, we all agree that it’s time to move forward on a Trinity Park we can enjoy today.

TXDOT Data: Project Pegasus Superior to Trinity Toll Road

Two months ago, we received revelatory information from TxDOT about the Trinity Toll Road:  Project Pegasus — the transportation project that will rebuild and add capacity to Lower Stemmons, the Canyon, and the Mixmaster/Horseshoe — could be constructed without the Trinity Toll Road.

Given today’s reality of limited transportation dollars, it is doubtful that both the Trinity Toll Road and Project Pegasus will both be funded anytime in the near future.  We will be lucky if we are able to construct one of these projects.  With this in mind, the question is, which project should be built first?

Councilmembers Sandy Greyson, Scott Griggs, and I sought to answer this question, and a month ago, we requested very specific data from TxDOT to compare the projects. We asked for data for five build scenarios: Current Conditions (2010) and four future conditions – No Build, Both Built, Trinity Only, and Pegasus Only. We requested that all responses be based on previously produced documents and that no new data be created (in an attempt to avoid data manipulation).

Mayor Rawlings passed on our request to TxDOT.  Afterwards, it was announced that the NTTA and the Regional Transportation Council — both staunch Trinity Toll Road advocates — would “assist” TxDOT in gathering the data.

We received the underlying data earlier this week and began to thoroughly analyze it.

TxDOT’s data shows that Project Pegasus is superior to the Trinity Toll Road in every metric – it moves more cars, faster, with less congestion, for less money:

Project Pegasus Only Trinity Toll Road Only
Add’l Cars Moved 126,033 to 260,900* 100,000 to 142,000
Average Speed 35 mph 30 mph
Level of Service D-F on Lower Stemmons

F on Horseshoe

F on Canyon

F on Lower Stemmons

F on Horseshoe

F on Canyon

D-E on Trinity Toll Road

Congestion Hours 44,917 67,982
Lane Miles at Level of Service “F” 46% 49%
Cost $602 M to $1.2 B** $1.47 B

But you wouldn’t know that Pegasus is the superior project by reading TxDOT’s accompanying narrative and the two charts that purport to “summarize” the back-up data. The narrative and summary charts conclude that the Toll Road is the better project.  The summary and charts are misleading, inaccurate, and they don’t reflect the conclusions of the underlying data.

Here are the major problems with TxDOT’s narrative and summary charts:

  1. Their fundamental flaw is using the wrong build scenario to draw their conclusions. They use the “Both Built” scenario instead of comparing “Trinity Only” to “Pegasus Only.”  The Both Built scenario reduces the impact of Project Pegasus since some of the cars are traveling on the Trinity.
  2. They compare the roads’ hypothetical capacity instead of the actual traffic that the roads are projected to carry. This inflates the Trinity’s impact because its capacity exceeds the actual traffic it will carry.
  3. They are inconsistent in their methodology for determining additional capacity of each road.  To calculate how much additional capacity the whole system will have if both components – Trinity and Pegasus – are built, they take the SUM of the components:  Trinity + Pegasus = Total System Capacity.  BUT, to calculate how much additional capacity will be created by the Pegasus System, they AVERAGE the components:  Lower Stemmons + Horseshoe + Canyon / 3 = Total Pegasus System Capacity.  That significantly reduces the impact of Pegasus since the average is less than the sum.
  4. Lastly, when they calculate the overall cost of each project, they inflate the cost of Pegasus by including the already-funded Horseshoe project. This makes the Trinity appear cheaper by comparison.

When we use the proper scenarios (Trinity Only vs. Pegasus Only), use real traffic data, and a consistent methodology for determining added capacity/traffic, TxDOT’s own data indicates that Pegasus comes out ahead in every metric. That’s what makes TxDOT’s contradictory conclusions — and the mayor’s reliance on those conclusions — so troubling.

Deciding which project to build will impact Dallas’ transportation system for decades to come.  It is far too important a decision to be based upon faulty, internally inconsistent, and biased information.  For that reason, we ask the mayor to join us in calling for an independent analysis of TxDOT’s data.

__________________________________________________

*We calculated the added traffic of Project Pegasus using both methodologies used by TXDOT: For the low end, we averaged all three components; for the high end, we added the components (we excluded the Horseshoe to avoid duplicating cars already counted on Lower Stemmons and the Canyon).

**$1.2 B if the remainder of Project Pegasus is built (Canyon and all of Lower Stemmons from I-30 to 183); $602 M if only the Canyon and Lowest Stemmons (I-30 to Dallas North Tollway) are built.

D Magazine: “Let’s Ditch the Trinity River Toll Road”

Wow.

If you haven’t read D Magazine‘s most recent article on the Trinity Toll Road, go out and buy the August issue — the one with Dirk on the cover — right now.  I’ll wait.

Ok, you’re too lazy (or cheap) for that, I get it.  Go the freebie route instead:  Head on over to D’s website and check out this bit of amazement:  “Let’s Ditch the Trinity River Toll Road:  It’s time to get on with a new plan for the park project we were promised.”

You read that right.  You were expecting maybe “Let’s Keep Hoping and Wishing for the Trinity Toll Road:  It Just Might Happen,” but no, D Magazine threw us all a curve ball.  Instead we got four solid reasons to abandon the road and get moving on the park:

1.  The Trinity Project’s funding does not depend on the toll road.

2. There’s no money to build it.

3.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is never going to approve it.

4.  Highways are bad for cities.

The piece is very well written by new D scribe Michael Mooney.  (And no, I don’t just say that because he wrote “Hunt has been right all along when it comes to the toll road.”  But that particular line was particularly well written.  Kudos, Mike.)  The only thing missing was an acknowledgment that The Dallas Observer‘s Jim Schutze has been right about the road since it was first proposed, but that may have been too much to ask for.

I know Jim and Buzz at The Observer are not as enthusiastic about this article as I am — noting that it didn’t come from publisher Wick Allison hisownself and there was no mea maxima culpa — but that didn’t bother me and here’s why:  This position represents a profound sea change for D Magazine.  D has long been one of the primary cheerleaders for this road and a good barometer for the powers-that-be.  If D is confident enough to take this unequivocal stand, that means the support for this road has all but evaporated.

Now, according to D, we should look at modern transportation alternatives and get moving on the park:

Scrapping the road won’t speed up the parks and the lakes. Nor will it delay them. And there’s good news: because the original bond involved so many aspects of development, the money that remains can be redirected to other parts of the project. It can be used to get a fresh, 21st-century take on better transportation options.

History will show that the vote to build this toll road was a mistake. An expensive error, sure, but hardly the city’s worst. Now it’s time to move on.

I couldn’t agree more.

A Blueprint for a Trinity Park We Can Use Today

The following op-ed originally appeared in the June 10, 2011 edition of The Dallas Morning News.

In 1998, Dallas voters embraced a bold, visionary plan to transform the Trinity River floodway into a vibrant urban park. But 13 years later, a torturous federal approval process combined with a significant funding gap have conspired to stop the project in its tracks. Add to that the recent revelations that local and federal officials were less than forthcoming about the Trinity toll road’s viability during the 2007 referendum, and it’s not an overstatement to say the public has lost faith in the Trinity River project.

We can reclaim this project and win back the public’s trust, but only if we’re willing to change the way we do things at Dallas City Hall. The grander, long-term vision for the Trinity park is incredible, but it’s still years away. We must give the public a Trinity park they can enjoy today, and we must do it as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. That means no high-paid consultants; no elaborate, full-scale models and enticing watercolor pictures; and — most importantly — no multiyear timelines. Continue reading

It’s Been a Bumper Crop Week for All Things Trinity

Ok.  This is like the fifth time I’ve sat down to write a blog about the Trinity River Project this week.  This is going to be a long one, so bear with me.  Lots of catching up to do.

First, I was going to blog about Michael Lindenberger’s well-written article in last Sunday’s paper, “Trinity toll road’s backers told only part of the story to win 2007 vote,”  contradicting claims made by toll road advocates during the 2007 toll road referendum that the feds had fully approved the road and it was fully funded.

Lindenberger cites documents (just released after his initial request two years ago) that showed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal officials were much less confident about the road than toll road advocates claimed publicly.

I took a couple of days to mull that over, but then DMN columnist Jackie Floyd weighed in, castigating Leppert for leading voters astray, especially those who might have been on the fence in such a close referendum.  “Voters in 2007 toll road referendum were shortchanged.”

Alright.  As I started to type a blog about these two items, a third item popped up — another article by Lindenberger getting Leppert’s reaction to the revelations that all was not as rosy with the toll road as he had painted it in 2007.  “Tom Leppert says he played fair with Dallas voters in 2007 Trinity toll road referendum.”

Ok, hands on keyboard, here I go….Nope, now The Dallas Morning News posted an editorial criticizing Leppert and others who misled voters in 2007, “Overblown optimism about toll road did voters a disservice“:

No doubt about it, then-Mayor Tom Leppert told folks. The corps says the route between the levees is safe. It can be done.

Well, not exactly.

What the corps said was “plausible,” Leppert and others portrayed as a slam dunk….

But their cocksure conviction did Dallas residents a disservice. Leppert and his allies offered a rose-colored, best-case scenario instead of allowing voters to make a fully informed decision about a significant and expensive project.

This newspaper — and likely plenty of voters — took leaders at their word when they proclaimed that the highway could be built in the floodway. While that may not be false, it wasn’t necessarily true. In the months leading up to the referendum, officials from the corps and other federal agencies wrote early and often that building within the levees would be difficult, that protecting the structural integrity of the levees was paramount, and that this had not been done before.

Proponents of the toll road, it seems, heard what they wanted to hear.

After that, I had to head over to Unfair Park to check out Jim Schutze’s take on all of this.  “Gosh, We’re Just Too Trusting, or: The Dallas Morning News’s Embarrassing Confession.”

The Trinity has been a hot potato this week.  So what’s a girl to do?  Well, I figured I might as well get in on the action, so I wrote my own op-ed.    I’ll include that in another blog, but here’s my take on all of these articles and columns and editorials:

I’m glad the truth has come out.  I wish this had come out in the DMN four years ago, but better late than never.  I’ll also say we’re very, very fortunate to have had guys like Schutze and Merten on the case, who dug into this issue during the referendum, who asked the tough questions (multiple times, if necessary), and who knew that just because the bigwigs were saying it, didn’t make it true.

Check Out “The Big Uneasy” Documentary This Weekend

Last month, I drove up to Denton to watch a documentary about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ culpability in the Katrina disaster.  Few things can entice me to drive that close to the Canadian border, but the trip was well worth it.  The movie will be screening tonight at 6pm through March 17 right here in Dallas at the Texas Theater and I strongly urge you to check it out.

About halfway through the film, the focus turns to New Orleans’ disasterous Mississippi River Gulf Outlet project, which was responsible for much of the destruction during Katrina.  There are unsettling parallels between the ill-fated “Mr. Go” project and our very own Trinity Toll Road debacle:  the primary purpose of the Corps’ Mr. Go project was not flood control and public safety, but transportation/economic development (sound familiar?).  Only in their case, instead of a massive toll road, they were creating a massive river channel.

Jim Schutze has two great articles on the documentary and its cautionary tale for Dallas:  Documentary About New Orleans’ Killer Floods Draws Uneasy Parallels to Dallas and If There’s One Film About the Corps of Engineers You See All Week …

I got to spend some time talking with the man behind the movie, Harry Shearer (who is not only an amazing comedian/actor, but an astute documentarian).  He was incredibly cool, and his passion for New Orleans and its people and history permeates the film.  I particularly loved his focus on the courageous whistle-blowers (engineers inside and outside the Corps) who risked their careers to do what was right.

This is a terrific film, and a timely one for our city.  Watch it.