Cracking the Mystery of TxDOT's Proposals to the Corps: Do Nothing and Build a Pile of Dirt.

Categories: News

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Sam Merten
In case you missed it, Michael Lindenberger reported in Saturday's Dallas Morning News that the Texas Department of Transportation finally submitted its proposals to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aimed at solving the soil issues currently stalling construction of the approaches to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. And if the corps doesn't green-light the remediation plans by December 1, TxDOT will likely sever its contract for the approaches. The potential delay is estimated to add to the cost of the project.

Tasty information indeed, but I was left wondering: What the heck are the proposed fixes? That same question was asked by a commenter online, and Lindenberger responded thusly:

@Spugs: Thanks for reading, but yes, I was told the details of the fixes, because I asked, and felt there was no way to briefly explain them in a way that would inform readers without taking space I didn't have, and besides the wisdom of the folks involved, at every level, suggested that what matters is if the corps likes the plans, not whether a reporter, a reader or even the engineers who have reviewed or submitted them, feel they are satisfactory. Predicting what level of comfort the corps will demand is an uncertain prospect at best. Beyond that, not sure how this story, which touts engineers' and cities' view that the fixes are manageable, helps support your thesis that I have a long-standing position on anything, much less that the parkway is destined to fail.

In search of the answer, I contacted TxDOT spokesperson Cynthia Northrop White, who I hoped would be willing to hand over a copy of the proposals. No such luck. She said they aren't releasing anything until the plans are accepted by the corps. It's "a sensitive issue with a lot of different players involved," she told me.

White said there isn't a cost estimate for the proposals, and she's not sure who will pick up the tab. The city and state are talking, though, she assured me, but I'm just a little concerned at this point. TxDOT has come up with a plan to save the bridge yet won't release it. Oh, and it doesn't know how much it will cost or who will pay for it.

"Correct me if I'm wrong," I said to her, "but it's not like TxDOT has money lying around that it can put toward this project."

She laughed. "Well, unfortunately that's a perennial problem that we have."

Now I'm more than just a little concerned.

I also asked White to grab me some numbers on the bridge. According to what she gave me, approximately $111.5 million of the $165 million budget has been spent.

In the meantime, I also had submitted some questions to the city's Trinity River Corridor Project department. Rebecca Rasor, the city's director of the project, confirmed that the city has sold and encumbered all of the $29 million in bond funds dedicated to the bridge. She also said she doesn't have any information on potential delays or costs associated with TxDOT's proposals.

Finally, it was time to hear from Kevin Craig, the corps' Trinity River project director. Could he explain the complex proposals that Lindenberger couldn't explain in the space he had and apparently didn't even think mattered?

"On the west levee, they determined that there is not a remediation required," Craig tells Unfair Park. "Basically, any underseepage that might be there would be eliminated by the berm on the back of the levee. Basically, it extends that seepage path to a point that it's not a problem. On the east levee, what's been proposed is building what we call a seepage berm on the land side of the levee that would basically do the same thing as what is already in place on the west levee in terms of just additional dirt adjacent to the levee on the land side that will extend that seepage path to the point where it's not a problem."

I'm not sure what Lindenberger was shown or told, but this is pretty basic stuff. Proposal No. 1: Don't do anything. Proposal No. 2: Add some dirt.

I'm certainly no engineer, but this hardly inspires confidence that the bridge will move forward. Craig disagrees. "They seem to be reasonable proposals," he says.

Craig stresses that the corps is still reviewing the proposals, but he says a final decision will be made by the December 1 deadline. I then asked if Wednesday's ruling against the corps in New Orleans gave him pause about approving the bridge and Trinity River toll road.

"We want to make sure that everything is being done in such a way that doesn't adversely affect the levees," he says. "I don't think it puts any added stipulations or criteria on us because we're going down path of making sure that what's being done is being done correctly."

So the ruling gives him no concerns at all about approving non-flood control elements in the floodway and having them come back and bite the corps?

"We're looking at this very comprehensively and ensuring that each component is technically sound and all of them work together in a comprehensive manner that does not adversely affect the system. We're confident that whatever we approve is going to be done in a way that ensures the safety of the citizens of Dallas."

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