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.”…

 

Last Night’s Trinity Meeting

Last night, the North Texas Tollway Authority and Texas Dept. of Transportation held a “public hearing” on the location for the Trinity Toll Road. I put “public hearing” in quotes because (1) you can’t see me doing air quotes, which are obnoxious anyway, and (2) it was anything but a public hearing.

I won’t use the word “sham” because it’s loaded and a little heavy-handed. But here’s what happened: Continue reading

Trinity Toll Road Public Hearing on Tuesday, May 5

In recent months, several facts have come to light that suggest that Dallas should reconsider its decision to locate the Trinity Toll Road in our city’s floodway.

First, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that Dallas’ levees failed to meet their new, post-Katrina safety standards. The Corps also discovered sand in our levees, which presents a problem for toll road construction. Further, the Corps indicated concerns about allowing the toll road’s large concrete piers to pierce the levees, which could weaken them.

In addition, the North Texas Tollway Authority acknowledged that there is a billion dollar funding gap for the toll road. No additional funding sources have been identified. Continue reading

Corps Report Much More Damning Than City Admits

At yesterday’s briefing on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ report on Dallas’ levees, city staff and the mayor downplayed the gravity of the Corps’ findings that our levees have critical failures and have been cited as “unacceptable.” The consequences of this report are extremely serious, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the city.

Michael Lindenberger at the DMN’s transportation blog has a great run-down of the Corps’ more serious findings and their repercussions moving forward. Continue reading

UPDATED: Corps’ Levee Report Reveals Multiple Failures

The Corps of Engineers just released their report analyzing the safety of Dallas’ levees. The news is not good. See Dallas Morning News Transportation Blog for details: DMN’s Corps to City: Trinity Levees failures are extreme, could prompt FEMA action

We must fix our levees immediately. We cannot let the toll road continue to delay our levee improvements.

UPDATE: Here is a link to part of the Corps’ report.

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. Continue reading