Jim, The Mayor Would Like To Speak With You...

Categories: Schutze
The current Observer city columnist says the Calatrava bridges are a bust. The former Observer city columnist says they're gonna be the best things, like, ever!

Not long after Jim Schutze's August 31 cover story on the Calatrava bridges, "Eye Candy for Suckers," hit the streets, I got a call from Mayor Laura Miller, who wasn't too thrilled with it. In his story, Schutze reported, among other things, that the city lacks the money for the first Calatrava bridge, let alone the two others; that the first bridge essentially connects nowhere to nowhere; and that the other two planned bridges replace structures that don't need to be replaced.

Well, Miller claims Schutze got it all wrong, and she said city staff were busy pulling together the facts so she could prove it. The mayor promised to write a letter to the editor laying out her argument. (She also told me that life post-mayor would revolve around gardening, kids and cooking. Uh-huh.) Her letter, which we just received, is after the jump. Decide for yourself whether her facts are persuasive. Later today, Schutze will post a response to Miller's letter. So stay tuned. --Julie Lyons


Letter from Mayor Laura Miller

Too big for our bridges: I don't mind that Jim Schutze doesn't like the Calatrava bridges ("Eye Candy for Suckers," August 31). I mind that his facts are wrong.

I didn't always like the Trinity River Project either. I voted AGAINST the project in 1998 when it was on the ballot. I was also on the ballot as a first-time city council candidate.

I had the same beef Schutze has now: The voters were being promised sailboats and lakes, but it was really just a glorified road project. When I was given a two-hour briefing on the project just before the election, I had only one question: "So where's the water?" They hadn't shown me any!

I went home and told my husband that while the river project was the best chance our part of town, Oak Cliff, had for its long-awaited renaissance, I couldn't vote for it. He told me I was crazy. "You may not like the details of the project, but if you get elected to the city council, you'll be in a position to change it and make it better."

But that didn't happen. We rarely had briefings on it. And the project only got worse: The plan was to build one "clean" bathtub of water (the lake) in the middle of the river bottom, split the dirty Trinity River around the bathtub, then build four lanes of high-speed tollway on either side of the dirty river. Who, I thought, would take their family down to that?

It was one of the reasons I ran for mayor.

Right after running for mayor, I held an all-day Trinity River Project summit with the city council. There was one ground rule: Everybody had to criticize the project. When we were done, we did what should have been done years before--we hired an urban planner to redesign the entire project. And we raised $600,000 in private donations to pay for it.

The city council approved the redo, called the Balanced Vision Plan, in December 2003. We not only shrunk and consolidated the road--from eight lanes to four, from both sides of the river to only downtown--we created 10 miles of lakes, wetlands, trails, an island, a whitewater canoe course, soccer fields, an amphitheatre and pedestrian overlooks. We didn't pretend we had all the money for the new, improved plan. Instead, we broke the project into three phases, presented it to the public, then put it all up on the city's webpage.

We have 1998 bond money for Phase One, which includes the two downtown lakes, four large wetlands, six gateway parks, trails, a soccer complex, and an Audubon Center and an Equestrian Center in the Great Trinity Forest. A lot of that is currently under design or construction.

For the next two phases--which, among other things, include a long peninsula that juts out from the Oak Cliff side providing pedestrian and vehicular access to the lakes, a whitewater canoe course, a grand fountain or other dramatic water feature between the two lakes--we will have to either raise the money privately (and civic leaders have created a private nonprofit to do that), get it from the state or the feds or put it in a future bond program. Or a mixture of all three.

The one thing that has not changed a bit is the plan for the Calatrava bridges.

Schutze's most factually incorrect claim is: "...most of those things [amenities] have been gutted because of the enormous growth of the amount of money to be spent on the bridges and on a freeway that wasn't even in the bond package we voted on."

Everything about that statement is wrong. The freeway was not only included in the '98 bond package, it was the unfortunate centerpiece of the whole project! Our share was (and still is) $84 million, and the rest will be covered by the state and the tollway authority. The Woodall Rogers Extension bridge was in there too--$28 million was (and still is) our share of it. The state wanted a traffic reliever from downtown to West Dallas and Oak Cliff. A year after the bond program, local philanthropist Margaret McDermott donated $2 million (she has since donated $9 million more) to hire Santiago Calatrava to design a striking, cable-suspension bridge for Dallas instead of a standard, concrete state highway bridge. Since then, the family of Margaret Hunt Hill has donated $12 million to design Calatrava's second bridge over the Trinity River at Interstate 30--a bridge that must be replaced by the state due to its being 50 years old and badly deteriorated. (Schutze claims the bridge doesn't have to be replaced. He is wrong.) We never had a penny of the '98 bond program money in the second bridge--it was a state project--but have since raised all the additional money we need to build Calatrava's design, thanks to Herculean work by our Congressional delegation.

Both bridges are fully funded. Yes, the first round of bids that came in to build the Woodall Rodgers bridge were almost twice what we budgeted, but we are counting on much lower bids the second time around. A lot of cities are in the same boat--last week, the city of Los Angeles announced that the bids for the proposed Frank Gehry-designed, mixed-use development adjacent to his existing Walt Disney Concert Hall is 40 percent over budget.

The Calatrava bridges are more than striking to look at: They are made of steel and will last three times as long as a conventional concrete bridge. They will attract international visitors to Dallas (Calatrava is famous for his big bridges, but Dallas is the first American city to get one, and we will be much better off in a flood because a suspension bridge has no columns underneath it--like a conventional bridge does--to trap debris and clog the river.)

In closing, one of the best things I've done as mayor is lead the charge to fix the Trinity River Project--to "change the details" as my husband put it--so that Dallas can have the country's best inland river project.

The Dallas City Council took a mediocre project and made it great--all in the bright light of day--and I resent, as a former reporter for this newspaper, Schutze's gross distortion of the facts.

Laura Miller
Dallas

Bonus MP3:

Sugar, "If I Can't Change Your Mind" (from the 1992 album Copper Blue)

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