Amidst Poorly Run Trinity Committee Meeting, We Learn the City is TxDOT's Contingency Fund for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

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Patrick Michels
Dave Neumann
Dave Neumann kicked off the city council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee meeting this morning by revisiting last week's decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which approved levee remediation plans regarding construction of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

"It ended up not being a major deal at all," assistant city manager Jill Jordan said of the levee fixes required by the corps to proceed with construction on the approaches for the bridge.

The press conference announcing the last-minute decision by the corps, however, was definitely a major deal, with Mayor Tom Leppert describing it as an exciting day for "everyone in North Texas." This prompted council member Steve Salazar, whose district the bridge is being built in, to ask why he wasn't notified about it. Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway also didn't get a memo or a phone call. Neither did Carolyn Davis, who asked if Neumann was there.

Jordan and Neumann collectively explained that Neumann knew about it because he's the committee's chair and had a speaking role at the event. So he was the only one there then? Nope, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano was there too. Why? Apparently because the press conference was held in her district.

"We work as a team around here," Davis said. "We're not solo."

Jordan and Neumann agreed that calls should have been made to all council members, and then they quickly moved on to a briefing about that case study for the Continental Bridge: the High Line in New York City.

The committee members didn't offer a lot of input, although Caraway said his preference would be not to have a street car on the bridge. Salazar voiced concerns about limited access to the west side of the bridge, and Jordan explained that the city has asked the Texas Department of Transportation to allow vehicular access to the bridge at certain times. "We don't want the bridge to be isolated from the community," she said.

Chaos ensued when the committee began discussing the $249,000 amendment to the city's advance funding agreement with TxDOT for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Despite its availability online, Linda Koop and Delia Jasso expressed frustration at not having access to the memo sent to committee members from Jordan outlining the specifics of the amendment.

Neumann had Jordan start and stop discussion on the item several times before sending his assistant to make hard copies of the memo. After it was distributed to committee members several minutes later, Jordan simply summarized it as a $249,169.10 change order and said, "That's about it."

Davis had two questions -- one very good, and one, well, not so good. The first was whether there's a contingency fund for the bridge's construction, and the other was if the agreement between the city and TxDOT was verbal. (I'm sure that one had District 7 residents wishing their election of Davis had been verbal.)

Once Jordan explained that TxDOT is the one handling the construction contracts, so the city doesn't have a contingency, Davis followed up with another strong question: Don't they have a contingency fund?

"Their contingency is us," Jordan said.

Good to know. Jordan added that the council should expect another amendment in January or February.

One question that wasn't asked: Where does the money come from to pay for the amendments? It generically cites 1998 bond funds as the source, but everyone on the committee should know that the city has already spent all the bond money allocated for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Rebecca Rasor, director of the TRCP, told me after the meeting that the funds are coming from interest earnings on the bonds.

During committee discussion of a briefing regarding $4 million to be spent on pump stations and geotechnical work, Jordan admitted that the city has known "for many years" that its pumps and sumps can't handle a 100-year flood, which is why the city pursued federal funding under the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. While $459 million was authorized in November 2007, including $298 million in federal money to match $161 million in city funds, Jordan said the city has only been receiving approximately $10 million annually from the federal government, making it difficult to estimate when work in the floodway will finally be complete.

"If we continue getting money at the same rate of time, it will be a very long time," she said. "I think that that's going to be unacceptable for the city of Dallas."

Jordan added that Dallas is one of the most active partners with the corps in the country. "We want our flood protection. We have put a lot of pressure on the corps of engineers to provide flood protection."

After an update on the progress of the 198 items rated by the corps in April as "unacceptable," Jordan reminded Neumann that the committee hadn't voted on the supplemental agreement with architect Santiago Calatrava for $456,000.

"We did that," Neumann said. "It passed."

Not one person in the room corrected him. But they didn't do it. It didn't pass. After the meeting, Rasor told me it too would be covered by interest earnings and said, "Well, I told Jill to remind him," regarding why it wasn't voted on.

Finally, the committee recommended a blended plan for the Oak Cliff Gateway, which has been four years in the making. "This is not a zoning plan," Neumann stressed. "This is a conceptual plan."

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