Council member announces plans to try for vote on moving toll road in Trinity River project
It’s beginning to look like Councilwoman Angela Hunt has taken on the role Mayor Laura Miller once starred in at the horseshoe the queen of mavericks.
I’ve got to admit that I hadn’t seen this coming until recently when Hunt began challenging the wisdom of the current plan for the Trinity River Corridor Project. She is the City Council’s lone dissenter about the $1 billion dollar-plus project.
Hunt is arguing that the six-lane, nine-mile toll road proposed for construction within the Trinity River basin will cheat Dallas voters out of the “urban oasis” they were promised in 1998 when they approved a $246 million bond package to kick off the corridor project.
Hunt’s reservations about the project apparently began after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advised city officials in November that the toll road would have to be realigned away from the earthen levees because of flood control concerns. And that’s a really important point this project is essentially a flood control measure.
Realigning the proposed toll road will reportedly reduce the size of the park and lake substantially so much, in fact, that Hunt contends the project is now fundamentally different from what voters approved 10 years ago.
With that in mind, Hunt lobbed a grenade at the project this week by holding a press conference inside the Trinity corridor on Wednesday, March 14, to announce her plan to force a referendum to move the proposed toll road outside of the Trinity River basin. To accomplish her goal, Hunt who is a lawyer has formed a political action committee called TrinityVote to finance the collection of 50,000 signatures she needs to put the measure on the November ballot.
Hunt’s announcement was met with criticism from former Mayor Ron Kirk, who championed the project when voters approved it, and from Mayor Miller, who now champions it.
After her election as mayor, Miller surprised many of the people who had voted for her by embracing the project. Miller, whose opposition to big-ticket projects before she became mayor was legendary, explained that as the mayor she had developed a different perspective from her days as a City Council member and from her time as a columnist for the Dallas Observer.
The press conference was also met with dismay from Councilman Ed Oakley, who is chairman of the City Council Trinity River Corridor Project Committee. He criticized Hunt for not offering a plan for where the toll road should be located.
“I’m not exactly sure where she thinks this is going,” Oakley said. “There’s no thought to if we move it where do we put it and if we pick another alignment where the money will come from.”
Oakley said he is also concerned that the referendum, if successful, would be unable to usurp the authority of federal and state agencies that are involved in plans for the toll road.
Only 75 supporters accompanied Hunt at her press conference, but she promises there are many other residents who will join her fight.
“I’m not alone,” Hunt said. “There are many residents behind this, and that’s who I represent. This is an issue people are frustrated with and they want a voice. They want to be part of the decision-making process, and they’ve been shut out of that for a decade.
“I really don’t feel alone because there has been such an upswell of support from residents. The residents believe it is time they had a say in this toll road and where it is put.”
But Oakley said the supporters who stood with Hunt at her press conference were familiar faces who had fought the project and failed before.
“This is a group of people who now have her attention that have fought against it from day one,” Oakley said. “They challenged it in court. They tied it up for five years. They still don’t like the answers that have come out of it. They’re trying to win in a different manner using Angela.
“It is the same group that has opposed it from day one. Now, they are trying one last-ditch effort.”
Oakley noted that the proposed project is the result of “hundreds and hundreds of meetings with thousands of people involved and tens of thousands of hours put into this project from the get-go.”
The public has been brought along at every step of the process, he said.
“Every possible alternative has been looked at,” Oakley said.
Other alignment possibilities outside of the Trinity River Basin would either be prohibitively expensive or disastrous in terms of interfering with economic development projects, Oakley said.
The project as currently envisioned would stretch 26 miles along the Trinity River from Farmers Branch to Lancaster and incorporate 10,000 acres of new parklands, Oakley said. The reduction in the park and lake area would be in the downtown area.
Oakley said opponents of the project who claim the urban park area is being drastically reduced are “sensationalizing.” He promised the proposed project would meet the city’s flood control needs and the aesthetic expectations of Dallas residents.
That is if and when the project ever becomes a reality. It has been 10 arduous years since voters first approved the plan.
Hunt’s group will be collecting signatures for 60 days in May and June, and they obviously are hopeful they will be successful in pushing the toll road out of the Trinity River basin.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make it successful, but it is dependent on the residents of Dallas taking part in this,” Hunt said. “This is their opportunity to have their voice heard if they want their voice heard.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 16, 2007