What's $60 to $150 Million Among Friends?

Categories: News

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Back on November 27, Dallas Morning News Trinity reporter Bruce Tomaso wrote a story bearing the headline "Dallas mayor wants to expedite Trinity River Project." Tom Leppert, speaking at the Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre Hotel, talked about being aggressive and moving forward quickly. Councilmember Dave Neumann, who is Leppert's chosen one as Trinity River Committee chair, was quoted in regards to the Trinity Turnpike. "We will beat that 2014 deadline," he said. "We are working to find ways to compress the schedule."

With a narrow victory on November 6, everything was full-speed ahead. No worries.

One of the big selling points from Leppert and the Vote No'ers was that delays cost money. Voting to move the toll road out of the flood way would delay the project at least a year, and, as Tomaso wrote in his story, "A year's delay, then, on a $1.3 billion tollway could increase its price tag by $130 million." Councilmember Ron Natinsky made a similar point on this Web site: "And if we don't VOTE NO and keep the project moving forward, the delay will cost $10 million per month or $120 million per year."

Makes sense to me. The longer you wait, the more you pay. As Leppert explained to me many times throughout the campaign, it's a little something called inflation. So after yesterday's Trinity River Committee meeting, Tomaso wrote a little story about the new time line that was unveiled. I'm paraphrasing here, but the gist of it was that everything was honky-dory with the dates for the Trinity Turnpike.

However, there are some facts out there that kinda get in the way.

In a February 20, 2007, presentation to the committee, the review of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement -- which, among other things, provides a detailed analysis of everything from toll-road alignment options to the road's impact on properties and wildlife around the Trinity -- was supposed to take place just a couple months after a meeting in April 2007. The city council and North Texas Tollway Authority board of directors were set to select the official preferred alignment inside the levees in September '07, and the Record of Decision was scheduled for August 2008. Construction on the road was estimated to begin in 2010 and end in 2013.

Then, in a December 4 committee meeting, the Record of Decision was suddenly changed to April 2009 because the SDEIS wasn't distributed until the day after the Trinity election. Is there something in there that they didn't want Angela Hunt to find? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say yes -- only, we won't know the answer to that till the SDEIS goes public some time this spring. (At the moment, there are only a limited number of draft circulating at the city level, and they're being kept very confidential.)

So at yesterday's meeting, it was announced that the new date for the selection of the alignment is September of this year. (Gee, I wonder which one they're gonna pick.) More important, shortly more than a month after the December 4 meeting, the Record of Decision was pushed back seven months -- to November 2009.

But wait a second. They just said everything was honky-dory, moving full speed ahead. Didn't Natinsky say delays were costing $10 million a month? Course, we could just take Rebecca Dugger's word for it, like Tomaso did. But with the Record of Decision changing from August 2008 to November 2009, it makes sense that the completion date was moved from 2013 to 2014. However, didn't nearly $150 million just get burned up in the process? Oh, well, no worries.

Not to pile on Tomaso, but his fellow Beloite Brad Watson kicked his ass yesterday. It has been known for a while that diaphragm walls would be needed to accommodate the piers that would be put into the levees. However, Watson revealed that the cost of this will add another $60 million to the project.

"These things happen in the real world, and that's what is going to happen here," council member Mitchell Rasansky said. "But, we're going to go forward with this thing."

No, Mitch. In the real world, you are the council's fiscal conservative. You watch every nickel and dime if it was your own. That's why we love you. Snap out of it! Since when do you let $60 million pass by like it was a free lunch?


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