Who Knew the Trinity Toll Road Debates Were So Entertaining?
"Tom Leppert is going to be a great mayor." Pause. "Once we get past this referendum." Big laugh. "And he beat me like a drum in the past election." More chuckles. Haw-haw.
Man, that Sam Coats was good yesterday, joining Angela Hunt for yet another Trinity River toll road referendum at Temple Emanu-El -- a regular Don Rickles, that guy. At least he was when compared to the pro-toll-roaders -- Mayor Tom Leppert and architect Bob Meckfessel -- for whom chuckles were rare in speeches designed to scare voters into drowning Proposition 1 on November 6. Vote for the ordinance, Leppert said yesterday, and you're voting for higher taxes, an increase in air pollution, the feds taking away all their money and yet another decade of delays.
The mayor likes to tell people "why the sky in Dallas is going to fall," Hunt says. The only thing he doesn't say? Vote against the toll road, and the terrorists win.
Hunt promised paradise on the banks of the Trinity; Leppert, 100,000 cars on nine miles of tollway perched inside a flood way. The pro-toll-roaders acknowledge they're stuck in a bad spot, trying to get people to vote for a road. And they're stuck with some bad slogans: "Vote no, because this is a plan that works," Leppert said. Um. Um. Um.
The audience of some 300 clearly threw in with Hunt: They laughed at her jokes and jeered Leppert when he refused to provide specifics about private and public funding for the project and when he refused to answer why Loop 12 couldn't serve as an alternative.
"There's not enough capacity," Leppert finally said.
"Then make it bigger!" someone shouted.
A note to KERA: Someone give moderator Richard Wasserman a Sunday-morning civic-affairs show, pronto. He's well-informed, thoughtful, deliberate and without being rude, he let no one off the hook yesterday, demanding specifics from both sides when vague generalities were offered instead. He asked Hunt repeatedly why are all the dozens of influential Vote No! backers wrong to support to the toll road and why is she so right?
Coats took that one: "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me." Big laughs.
Wasserman hammered Leppert about how the toll road would "revitalize downtown," since its sole purpose is to take folks from one suburb to another and skip the city altogether. Leppert talked about how that fire in July shut down Stemmons Freeway and how it was a "disaster." Then he said, "Now imagine that every day." (Someone at our table asked, "Why? What does he know I don't?") Coats got up a few minutes later and said, "There's been a lot of fear injected into this debate." No one laughed that time.
The highlight of the day, though, was when Leppert corralled a few audience members, using a line of 'em to show how wide the Trinity park would be compared to how narrow the toll road would be when all was said and done. The dude in the middle of the line was supposed to represent the river. Leppert walked down the line: "You're the toll road, you're the park ..." He walked to the middle of the line, toward "the river."
"And what's your name?" Leppert asked the guy in the blue button-down.
"David Coats." Sam's kid got a good laugh. Leppert just kept on walking. Don't believe me? The video proof is below. --Robert Wilonsky