Why Ya Just Can't Trust Tom Leppert

Categories: Schutze
Thomas Linehan
This visual of the Trinity River project was done for the Trinity Trust using materials that were, like, only four years out of date. Which is awesome.

As it turns out, the “flyover” animation Mayor Tom Leppert used on September 18 to show how small the toll road will be inside the flood control levees was a student project at the University of Texas at Dallas. And it was not at all a depiction of the road that would actually be built if the city went ahead with plans for a toll road between the flood control levees downtown.

I had an interesting chat yesterday with Dr. Thomas E. Linehan at UTD, who has been called “a visionary in the field of computer animation,” and who oversaw the Trinity flyover animation project. Linehan explained to me that UTD got into the project back before the TrinityVote petition drive and referendum -- and long before the Trinity Project became quite as politically charged as it is today.

He also helped me better understand something I had complained about when this animation was presented at the big Vote No! launch press conference at the Hilton Anatole. Jump with me, and he will explain.

The point Mayor Tom kept hammering home at the press conference was how small the toll road looked in the animated flyover. I said at the time I felt like I was flying over the project in the far left-hand seat of a 747, with the toll road out the right-hand window. The perspective seemed a bit strained, to say the least. I think it gave me whiplash.

I thought, “Yeah, it’s hard to see the toll road, because the animation won’t let me turn my head to the right.”

Linehan explained to me yesterday that the animation was sort of a remake of an actual video that was shot from a helicopter and provided to UTD by The Trinity Trust, a private advocacy group. The perspective, which he admitted was not ideal, was determined by the Trinity Trust video, not the students who did the animation.

More to the point, though: The entire depiction, he said, was of the 2003 “Balanced Vision Plan” for the road, as formulated under former Mayor Laura Miller.

A-ha! So the animation had precious little to do with the road as it would be built now. The Balanced Vision Plan assumed the road would be up on the side of the flood control levees. The Corps of Engineers ruled six months ago that the road cannot be placed on or touching the levees. It has to go 50 feet out into the flood way, away from the bottom of the levees.

The Balanced Vision Plan is history. It is no more. Kaput.

No wonder the road in the animation looked like it was so far removed from the park. It was not the road -- not at all the road -- that they’re going to build. Please see a very smart discussion of this issue posted yesterday as a comment on a blog item of mine. Read the comment from “Lenna.”

At their press conference launching Vote No!, Leppert and Craig Holcomb of Trinity Commons Foundation, another lobby group, were adamant that the visuals they were showing us were “exact” and accurate.

But, in fact, the graphics were terribly inexact and inaccurate, not through any fault of the animation-makers but because the animation depicted an obsolete alignment for the road.

I’m especially sensitive to these issues after having seen Trinity Project Director Rebecca Dugger’s e-mail to a model-maker asking him how to show six lanes of toll road in a physical model but make it look like four lanes.

It all just goes back to those 1998 visuals with the sailboats on the lakes, doesn’t it? They keep playin’ us for fools with them purty pictures.

I still say the only meaningful model I have seen of any of this is the one in the current Advocate Magazine showing the size of the “lakes” that are left after you squeeze a major highway in there.

Why bother sailing on the lakes when you could probably just take a good running leap and broad-jump them? --Jim Schutze


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