Trinity toll road farce

Link to article here.

TxDOT insisted NO work could commence to retrofit decaying bridges near the Trinity River in Dallas unless the Trinity toll road was built first. Now they’ve changed their tune saying work CAN begin on the unsafe overpasses BEFORE the Trinity toll road is built. So once again, TxDOT used deceptive tactics to force voters into supporting an unwanted toll road only to do a bait and switch post-election.

This is why insisting on a public vote on toll roads is a recipe for failure. The big money armed with the aid and comfort of a corrupt highway department know how to get these ill-conceived projects past the voters. If nothing else, they know it’s a waiting game…they won’t fix our roads and we’ll be stuck in endless gridlock until we finally capitulate to their toll agenda.

TxDOT: Key phase of downtown Dallas road project can start Trinity toll road
Saturday, April 3, 2010
By RUDOLPH BUSH and STEVE THOMPSON / The Dallas Morning News
Part of the city’s tangled Mixmaster interchange downtown, including two key bridges spanning the Trinity River, can be rebuilt without constructing a toll road through the Trinity levees, a top transportation official told regional planners and elected officials Friday.

Bill Hale, Dallas district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, said the city and state need to move forward with rebuilding the bridges over Interstate 35E and I-30 because they are rapidly deteriorating.

He urged Dallas officials to focus on finding funding for those projects as soon as possible.

The Mixmaster interchange is a key piece of the $2 billion Project Pegasus, which city and state officials have long said could not get under way until the toll road between the Trinity levees was built.

Speaking to the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition, Hale said Friday that was TxDOT’s view for many years.

“We knew the best way to get it built was to have the extra lanes built first, meaning the Trinity [toll road], then secondly coming in with the Pegasus project,” Hale said.

The condition of the bridges has changed that, he said.

“The issue that we’re working with on this thing [now] is the safety of the thing. And that’s what I’m concerned with,” he said.

City officials hope to replace both concrete bridges with soaring white steel bridges designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Calatrava has designed the I-30 bridge, also known as the Margaret McDermott Bridge. The I-35E bridge has yet to be designed, and neither is funded for construction.

In 2007, during the run-up to a referendum that would have killed the toll road, backers of the road repeatedly cited transportation officials’ tying of funding for Pegasus to completion of the toll road.

In a November 2007 article in The Dallas Morning News, Timothy Nesbitt, a Transportation Department project manager, said the toll road was the key to nearly $5 billion in other badly needed highway improvements in downtown Dallas.

“Without the Trinity, the other projects go away,” he said.

And in an opinion piece in The News, Mayor Tom Leppert, who led the successful fight for the road, wrote that “TxDOT has flat out said it will not proceed with the state and federally funded Project Pegasus, the Mixmaster fix, if a reliever route – the Trinity Parkway – isn’t in place.”

Now, it appears the Transportation Department is eager to go forward with much of the Mixmaster – which includes the I-35E and I-30 interchange southwest of downtown – even if it cannot yet construct the entire Pegasus project. This portion would cost an estimated $500 million to $600 million, or more than a quarter of the cost of Pegasus.

Hale said the toll road or some other reliever route must be built before the so-called Canyon – a depressed portion of I-30 south of downtown – can be rebuilt.

In an interview after his presentation, Hale said his comments weren’t intended to represent a major shift in plans.

“It’s not a shift. There are portions of the Pegasus that can’t begin before [a reliever route] happens,” he said.

Leppert and City Manager Mary Suhm said they too don’t view Hale’s recommendation on the bridges as a sweeping change to the project.

“Can we do stuff around the edges and periphery? Absolutely,” Leppert said.

He compared reconstruction of the bridges to the city and state’s decision to go forward with the reconstruction of Dead Man’s Curve on the S.M. Wright Freeway. That was originally intended to be rebuilt in tandem with the toll road.

But opponents of the toll road, led by council member Angela Hunt, see it differently.

“First, it was we cannot do any part of Project Pegasus; we are going to lose hundreds of millions in funding” without the toll road, she said. “Now it comes to light that we certainly can get started on a major part of the project and move forward without having this detour in place,” she said.

Hunt, who has long urged the city and state to complete the Pegasus project without the toll road, said the decision to move forward now flies in the face of representations by toll road backers during the 2007 campaign.

She said she believes that the toll road project – hampered not only by concerns about the safety of the city’s levee system but also by a $1 billion funding gap – is dead, and that the Transportation Department has no choice but to move on with Pegasus now.

In her view, Hale’s urging of the city to focus on funding construction of the bridges instead of the toll road is telling.

“TxDOT does not like to be on the wrong side of Dallas city politics. To even express that in conservative terms, I think, is pretty significant,” she said.

Leppert called that blatantly false and said the city has been working constantly to secure funding for the bridges.

“You don’t just do one thing at a time. In terms of the importance of the bridges, I was in Washington [recently] to make a push,” he said.