Hunt pledges to hold those who campaigned against amendment to their word, calls for progress soon
Now that Dallas voters have approved the inclusion of a high-speed toll road in the Trinity River Corridor Project, everyone wants to know what will happen next and how fast it can get under way.
City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who led the unsuccessful ballot measure on Tuesday, Nov. 6, to prohibit the construction of the toll road in the river’s floodplain, said Dallas residents want to see progress on the massive flood control project. The project, which voters first approved 10 years ago and reaffirmed this week by 53 percent of the vote, includes the planned construction of a series of parks and lakes in the river bottom near Downtown Dallas.
“Our position is that the park project and the flood control measures have been held up because of the uncertainties with the toll road, but the other side has been assuring us we are going to see the dirt start to fly,” Hunt said. “So let’s see it.”
Voters went to the polls this week in numbers that exceeded the low turnout forecasted by election officials. There were 79,918 votes cast on Proposition 1, which would have prohibited the toll road’s construction inside the river levees, with 37,639 voting for it and 42,279 voting against it. It failed by a 6 percent margin.
Election officials estimated 10 percent of voters would turn out, but 15.2 percent went to the polls.
Former City Councilman Ed Oakley, who campaigned to help defeat the proposition, said he believes that within the next 18 months to three years Dallas residents will see widespread construction in the Trinity River bottom.
“It is time we get this project out of the box, off the drawing board and finished, and delivered to the voters,” Oakley said. “There are a lot of great things that are coming out of all this.”
As Oakley sees it, the residents of North Oak Cliff, South Dallas and West Dallas stand to gain the most from the completion of the project.
“Oak Cliff comes out, I think, on top of this project heads and shoulders above the rest of the city,” Oakley said.
The former councilman said he believes the project will generate a new wave of housing and economic development in Oak Cliff. It eventually will alleviate traffic congestion for residents who must cross the Trinity River every day, he said.
“It is going to unleash $5 billion in road projects inside Loop 12 for Dallas that has been sitting on the shelf,” Oakley said. “That’s billion with a “‘B.'”
Hunt said she is disappointed that her effort to thwart the construction of the toll road in the river bottom failed, but that she does not regret the fight. The project will be a better one because of the citywide debate, she said.
“We heard the opposition make a lot of promises during this campaign, and we intend to hold them accountable,” Hunt said. “We’re going to hold them to all of those promises, and we’re going to do all we can to ensure we can have the best park possible considering we will have a toll road inside it.”
Hunt noted that proponents of the toll road promised it would create 36,000 new permanent jobs, trucks would not be allowed on the toll road, there would be a million dollars in landscape improvement implemented for every mile of construction, and that there would “not be another dime of taxpayer dollars” expended beyond what has already been established.
Hunt noted that six months ago most Dallas residents were unfamiliar with the Trinity River Corridor Project.
“That’s changed significantly over the last few months,” Hunt said. “People have become more educated. We’ve shined a light on this project so I think that Dallas residents are more aware of the biggest public works project Dallas has ever undertaken. That’s a real success.”
Hunt said that she believes the fate of the toll road is far from certain, regardless of the support it received from Dallas voters. She noted that The Dallas Morning News reported on the same day it reported the election results that approval is still required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and that the North Texas Tollway Authority must determine after that if it can afford to build the toll road. The approval process could extend until 2010, and the $5 billion in road improvements Oakley is anticipating are tied to the toll road’s progress.
Hunt said she is concerned the NTTA will attempt to obtain more funding for the toll road from Dallas taxpayers.
“That of course is one of the promises we heard no more taxpayer dollars will be spent on this,” Hunt said.
Although city officials consider the toll road’s construction and financing essential to the whole project, preparation for the other components is underway, Oakley noted.
The project has been plagued by controversy since voters first approved it 10 years ago. Critics of the project claim they were duped by city officials into believing they were approving a small parkway to service the parklands in the Trinity River bottom rather than a high-speed toll road. The project was held up in court for five years while critics challenged city officials on the language of the initial ballot measure.
Hunt obtained the necessary 52,000 signatures on a petition this year to force a vote on the toll road. The councilwoman and her supporters contended that the river bottom is the wrong location for the toll road, and that it would be better suited in another area, such as along Industrial Boulevard.
City officials countered that the alternatives would be too expensive, and that the whole project would fall apart if the toll road were pulled from it.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 9, 2007