Is the Trinity River Toll Road on a "Fast Track" to Completion? Um, No.

Categories: Schutze
trinity_overlook_header.jpgRudy Bush had a good story in The Dallas Morning News yesterday about the new Trinity River "overlook" unveiled by the city on Wednesday and how handy it is if you want to go down and marvel at the lack of progress. Basically, as Bush points out, it's a vantage point at the corner of Beckley and Commerce Streets looking out on the same old swampy river bottom that has always been and will always be.

Mayor Tom Leppert and council member Dave Neumann keep telling people they have the Trinity River toll road on a "fast track" for completion. Fast track my ass. Fat-head track, maybe.

Fast track wasn't what I heard Tuesday at a meeting of the city council's Trinity River Committee, chaired by Neumann. Neumann asked Dan Chapman of HNTB -- there representing the North Texas Tollway Authority for some reason -- if he was sure the NTTA was going to keep to its fast-track schedule. Chapman told him something that sounded a whole lot to me like, Hell, no.
In order to stay on track, NTTA has to have all of its design work complete by May 1, 2009. That's when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it must see the design in order to keep to its own part of the deal. The Corps still has to rule on whether anybody can build a road out there in the middle of the river bottom without exposing downtown Dallas to catastrophic flood damage.

Apparently NTTA was on track until its board meeting last month, when Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price showed up and told them they needed to hire more minorities for the design job, which is underway and was supposed to be halfway to completion. A tad late to tinker, one would think.

Chapman, the HNTB guy, told Neumann that Price's appearance at the NTTA board meeting had delayed the NTTA design process by at least a month. He said the delay was going to be a big hurdle.

"It certainly represents a major major challenge," Chapman said. "We basically lost 20 percent of our time to deliver that submittal May 1. I feel the design plan from the highway/bridge side of it, making that deliverable, is something we can readily accomplish. It's the geotechnical services that are weather-dependent. We can keep all our fingers crossed and hope that we get very minimal rain over the next few months. But that is the major challenge. The geotechnical needs to be 80 to 90 percent by that May 1 deadline, and that is going to be a challenge. All I can tell you is that we are managing every bit of the process we can."

Translation? Hell, no. No way.

And if the May 1 deadline to get it to the Corps slips, then the Corps is released from its promise to finish its own review in a year's time. The city is now spending $15 million for the design alone -- no construction. Just design. And guess what? This sucker ain't never gonna be built, because it's an irresponsible idea that the Corps will never be able to sign off on. --Jim Schutze
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