Trinity Chairman Sees "Many, Many Obstacles" With Turnpike Project

Categories: News

trinity_meeting012709_3.jpg
Sam Merten
From left to right: Gene Rice and Kevin Craig of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dan Chapman of HNTB and project manager for the NTTA and Rebecca Dugger, director of the Trinity River Corridor Project
As Schutze mentioned earlier, the council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee met this morning to get an update on the Trinity Turnpike, with reps from the North Texas Tollway Authority and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on hand to walk everyone through the PowerPoint presentation. Of most interest was how closely everyone is on schedule with Mayor Tom's "Beat 2014" strategy for the $1.8 billion road project.

"We're kinda hanging on by our fingernails right now," said Dan Chapman, project manager for the NTTA.

He later repeated himself for those who didn't hear him the first time. "As I said, we're hanging on by our fingernails right now to make that schedule."

In fact, the nails are on the verge of breaking off if you didn't fall asleep in today's marathon meeting. Snuck in between two hours of discussion and laser pointing at schematics, Chapman said one of the claims in his presentation (page 8) that the Corps approved geotechnical drilling plans wasn't exactly true. Then he revealed the biggest problem facing this sucker.

"As I've said all along, the hugest hurdle is going to be the geotechnical evaluations," he said.

Uh oh.

The geotechnical evaluations are essentially what is needed to determine the conditions of the levees, and, more importantly, how building a highway inside the floodway will affect their integrity.

"It is something that we need approved right away because they are running out of bore holes to do outside of the levee template," Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said. "So it's something the Corps needs to do this week, or else it will throw us behind."

Double uh oh.

Dave Neumann, chair of the committee, stepped in and asked what the holdup is and was told by Kevin Craig of the Corps that before approving the evaluations, the Corps needs to agree on the number of holes, where they will be dug, how they are spaced and what information will be gathered. Craig added that he has already brought on additional staff in preparation, since the Corps must supervise the process, and he expects approval in the coming days.

Chapman also said the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which I've been waiting for since the summer, should be ready for public comments at the end of March. That will be followed by the selection of a recommended alternative by the council, which Neumann insisted the council had already done -- until Chapman reminded him that the council approved an alternative that was ultimately rejected by the Corps.

After that, the third uh oh comes into play. In May, the final road design is expected to be at 30 percent, at which point the NTTA should have its traffic and revenue studies completed; it should then know how much of the $1.8 billion it's willing to take on. Something tells me they're not going to say everything looks peachy, and they won't be picking up the remainder of the bill after the measly $200 million in state money and $84 million from the city has been received.

Another interesting tidbit learned from the meeting is that any delay in the Section 408 review by the Corps, which is its final approval of the road, affects the timeline for the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the floodway improvements.

However, it was also revealed that funding to keep the Dallas Floodway Extension project on schedule is entirely dependent on federal appropriations, which the Corps won't know how much it will get for a few months.

"Mr. Chapman, I see many, many obstacles," Neumann said. "But I see the willpower of the Corps, the NTTA, TxDOT and the city of Dallas all working together to make it happen. I'm not afraid of the obstacles."

How about you, Mitchell Rasansky?

"This is the most informative meeting I've been to," he said after earlier saying how impressed he was and calling the schematics "the first really great thing I've seen."

I'm still trying to understand how Rasansky got on the wrong side of the turnpike debate, but in the meantime, I prefer to enjoy his finer moments, like his response to a discussion on whether or not the pedestrian bridge should be caged.

"It depends on what the stock market is doing," he said.


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