Angela Hunt Sends Wick Allison a Note; Smelled a Little Like Vanilla Maybe?

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We now imagine this look on Wick Allison's face applies to both Jim Schutze and Angela Hunt.

On Friday, Jim Schutze had a little sumpin-sumpin to say about Wick Allison's D mag editorial in which Allison claims Angela Hunt's TrinityVote toll-road petition drive is nothing less than "a wrecking ball [aimed] at the largest public works project in Dallas history." Nonsense, Jim called the publisher's note. Jim's up in a moment with a few words about an editorial in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, which now seems intent on driving Mr. Schutze crazy.

Hunt spent the end of last week debating the Trininty toll road with Trinity Commons Foundation's executive director Craig Holcomb; there's some video from the Thursday-night Belmont Neighborhood Association-sponsored shindig after the jump, and you can find plenty of it right here, courtesy Avi Adelman. This week, Hunt sets her sights on Allison as well: Yesterday on TrinityVote, she posted an open letter to Allison, in which she "humbly offer[s] to bring Mr. Allison up to speed on a few facts that he may wish to correct in his next editorial." Only there's nothing "humbly" about the letter, which is also after the jump. --Robert Wilonsky

An Open Letter to D Magazine's Wick Allison

Monday, May 28, 2007

If you picked up the June issue of D Magazine, you no doubt read the editorial by its publisher, Wick Allison, in which he claims that a public vote on moving the proposed Trinity toll road out of our Downtown Trinity Park "is to aim a wrecking ball at the largest public works project in Dallas history."

Now, we know a little bit about publishing. We are aware that it takes months of effort to put together a fancy, glossy magazine such as D. We understand that Mr. Allison likely wrote his editorial months ago, long before critical facts contradicting his assertions became public.

So we humbly offer to bring Mr. Allison up to speed on a few facts that he may wish to correct in his next editorial.

After years of embracing the Trinity toll road, Mr. Allison has finally acknowledged what TrinityVote has been saying all along: the planned toll road is a monstrosity, and we will end up with an ersatz North Dallas Tollway cutting through the last great expanse of nature in our city. Mr. Allison observes:

"I was driving back to the office the other day on the Dallas North Tollway after having listened to Angela Hunt speak against the design of the Trinity parkway. The speed limit on the Tollway is 55 mph, and I was doing 70. Looking at the six lanes of concrete over which I was speeding, it dawned on me that Hunt is right. The engineers want to build a Dallas North Tollway down the middle of the Trinity floodplain."

Mr. Allison is absolutely right on this point: The "Trinity Parkway," which was sold to voters in 1998 as a low-speed reliever route with direct park access, has become a high-speed toll road with no park access. Where Mr. Allison misses the mark is in his conclusion that the high-speed toll road "is not going to happen," and that with a little elbow grease, we'll get a terrific little park road. Mr. Allison is confident that we can fix this abomination if we all go back to the drawing board. He suggests we "lock the traffic engineers in a room and tell them not to come out until they have a parkway the entire city can embrace."

No doubt this method works splendidly at D Magazine's offices. However, in the context of designing the "Trinity Parkway," it will not. Mr. Allison seems certain that the toll road's high speed and lack of park access is somehow the fault of stubborn traffic engineers who simply refuse to sit down and discuss the design of this road. He seems to believe that if only these engineers had an eye for design, we'd have a lovely parkway.

But the fact is, engineers and designers have been planning this road for nine years. And after nearly a decade, they have been unable to resolve the fundamental conflict between a low-speed access road and a high-speed toll road: The North Texas Tollway Authority, the entity that will construct and operate the toll road, must generate tolls to pay for the road. To generate tolls, the NTTA needs lots of cars to travel on the toll road. To ensure a lot of cars travel on the toll road, the cars must go fast. So a low-speed route is out of the question. But what about direct park access? Unfortunately, that costs too much money and would slow down motorists, according to the NTTA's traffic engineers. All the good intentions in the world will not change these fundamental facts. Therefore, we’re stuck with a high speed toll road with no park access.

The toll road’s current plans did not result from the lack of a “context-sensitive” design, but from the NTTA’s practical need to generate tolls. The resulting design does not reflect the parkway voters approved in 1998. So why shouldn't we vote on this?

According to Mr. Allison, it would be unwise for Dallas residents to vote on the toll road because "The Trinity is the only place to build [the toll road]" and "The entire Trinity project is premised on the federal money the parkway attracts." We can only assume that Mr. Allison drafted his editorial before certain facts came to light and did not have time to make revisions before going to press. Unfortunately for Mr. Allison, with such a long lead-time, one risks looking foolish in the face of facts that are clearly contrary to one's assertions.

To Mr. Allison's claim that "The Trinity is the only place to build [the toll road]," we point out that the NTTA disagrees. They are currently investigating other locations for the toll road outside the levees: "An alignment outside of the levees is one of the alignments we are studying along with several alignments within the levee." (Kevin Feldt, NTTA Director of Project Planning and Development, on KERA radio May 16, 2007.)

Mr. Allison also states that "The entire Trinity project is premised on the federal money the parkway attracts. Without the parkway, the whole project could collapse." We find this claim curious, since U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson – who has been Dallas’ champion of the Trinity River Project – disabused referendum critics of that notion two weeks ago: "I'm never anti people doing a vote. It hasn't been voted on before. So I guess that's the right of people if that's what they want to do. There really is no impact because what we're doing through water resources [federal funding for levee improvements] is different than what is being discussed about the tollway."

As to Mr. Allison's claim that the petition will "aim a wrecking ball at the largest public works project in Dallas history," we are unclear as to his meaning. Surely he does not mean that the Trinity River Project would be delayed if we have a vote, since both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the NTTA recently have stated that is not the case:

Gene Rice, Trinity River Project Manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: "The vote or the proposed vote, we don't think it wouldn't have a large impact on us as we have made some assumptions that keep moving along with our project."

Kevin Feldt, NTTA: "As far as the timing goes, the project is moving forward with or without the pending petition and pending election."

So we welcome and look forward to learning exactly what Mr. Allison means by his statement that TrinityVote’s petition effort will wreck the Trinity River Project. We would love to hear some specifics, rather than baseless rhetoric.

Mr. Allison concludes his editorial with the statement “Egocentrics make bad listeners and good populists. Because they won’t listen to facts, the facts never get in their way.”

We could not agree more.

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