Councilwoman wants improvement project to be re-evaluated
The buzz of discontent about the Trinity River Project is growing, and I suspect it’s about to get a whole lot louder.
Like every other reporter in town, I regularly read the work of my colleagues at other publications, and I’ve closely followed Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze’s criticism of the project over the last year. Despite the best efforts of some elected officials, city staff and civic leaders to placate, discredit or ignore Schutze, he has persisted in warning that the project is not what voters originally approved and that it could be riddled with problems.
I’ve thought all along Schutze was raising some awfully good questions, but I’ve remained a bystander because it’s just not that easy to find a gay angle in all of that discussion about toll roads, levees, lakes and parks.
That is until now.
Schutze’s column last week focusing on the concerns City Councilwoman Angela Hunt raised about the project’s possible defects regarding flood control really caught my eye. As I understand it, the whole reason for the Trinity River Project is flood control. The rest of the project is supplementary to protecting the city from a massive flood that some warn could result in waters lapping through downtown Dallas some day.
So here’s my gay angle, folks. I don’t think any member of the LGBT community wants to risk being swallowed up in a flood. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “there goes the neighborhood” as in downstream.
I talked with Hunt this week, and she confirmed that she has strong concerns about the Trinity River Project mostly because it has changed dramatically since voters first approved it in 1998. Hunt said she started studying the issue on her own about a year ago because she felt that City Council members, especially new ones, had been given only a superficial overview of the project.
“I just felt like I didn’t have enough information about this project,” Hunt said.
“It is so complex. When I started digging into it on my own I was really surprised and disappointed with what I found in regards to the toll road.”
Hunt noted voters were promised a big park with lakes that would turn the ugly Trinity River bottom into a beautiful tourist Mecca. The toll road was supposed to cost only $394 million, but now that toll road’s cost has risen to over $1 billion, she said.
“It has had engineering problems, after engineering problems, after engineering problems because the federal government has not approved having the this toll road up against the levees,” Hunt said.
The problems have reportedly caused the planned park and lake portion of the project to shrink by 50 percent or more. That’s not the project the voters approved.
Now the proposed park area is continuing to shrink because the U.S. Corps of Engineers has told city staff that because of what was experienced in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, it is tightening standards and the toll road cannot be built against the levees.
But proponents reportedly are hoping to get a variance that would allow the toll road to be constructed as previously planned. It seems that powerful members of the business community really don’t want the toll road any closer to their properties.
Now that’s the part that really caught my attention. In fact, I was alarmed. And Hunt said she was, too.
“It really should be alarming because we saw what happened in New Orleans,” Hunt said. “We saw what happens when the levees fail. If the federal government develops standards to try address those types of problems, we should absolutely adopt those standards.”
Hunt said at this point she is merely suggesting that the decision to put the toll road in the park be re-evaluated. The whole thing might need to go before the voters again, she said.
“All I’m suggesting is that things have changed so drastically from what the voters thought they were getting,” Hunt said. “The fact is this project has become so complex that people would really like to see some transparency. And they would like to understand why it is that we have to have this toll road here.”
For now, Hunt is alone on the City Council in her belief that the project needs to be re-evaluated, and that the voters perhaps should be given the opportunity to reconsider the whole project.
Frankly, that seems reasonable to me, and I don’t think it would hurt for a few of the other members of the City Council to dig into the project a little more deeply also.
Isn’t that what we elected them to do keep themselves informed so they can represent our best interests?
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 09, 2007
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