Mooney River: Once Again, D Magazine Misses the Trinity River Toll Road Story

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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Hey, I was out of town last week when the August issue of D hit the streets -- well, given the magazine's target demo, perhaps we should say it hit the winding lanes and parkways -- with an essay titled "Let's Ditch the Trinity River Toll Road."

Wow. Pretty remarkable.

From the time of the original 1998 bond election forward, Dallas's only city magazine has been locked in grim competition with the city's only daily newspaper to see which one would be the Official Number One Journalistic Procurer for the Trinity River Project including the toll road. In December 2004 D Magazine even devoted an entire "advertorial" special issue of the magazine to pimping for the project.

Tim Rogers, editor of the magazine, has devoted a lot of typing over the years to calling me a liar for my own reporting on the project and especially on the toll road.

This is self-serving, I know, but I think I must point out that every single thing I have reported about the project and the road over the years has turned out to be true. Most of what D and The Dallas Morning News have reported has turned out to be untrue. Almost all of that is implicitly confessed in the essay in the current issue of D, which provides a list of reasons why the road is a bad idea.

I said almost.

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The D Magazine essay, nicely written by a new guy over there named Michael J. Mooney, sidesteps the real issue -- what's really wrong with the toll road and the whole project. Notice please that I am describing Mooney's offering as an essay. That way he and I can avoid the unpleasantness that would ensue if I were to take his piece as an actual news story and then examine it for evidence of actual reporting, of which I would find none.

So let's call it an essay. It's OK, then, if Mooney did not go out and churn up a bunch of original reporting on the project, since he's really only expressing an opinion about the reporting that has already been done by other people.

It's odd, obviously, for a guy who's brand-new to the debate to have a big opinion about it, but odd is not a crime, especially in journalism. He does offer four reasons why the toll road is a bad idea. The problem is that he misses the big one.

First, Mooney says the official story -- that the entire Trinity River Project is dependent on the building of the toll road -- is not true. True. We can skip the road and get to the rest of the project even faster.

Second, he says there is no money for the thing. True.

Third, he says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will never allow a road to be built out between the flood control levees where it floods. Yeah, but why? He does not say. And fourth he says highways are bad for cities. True.

What Mooney does not bring to the table is the big fundamental reason why the road and most of the rest of the project are bad for Dallas -- a theme we have covered extensively at the Observer for 13 years.

As we first reported in 1998 -- based on interviews with flood-control experts all over the country and on their reading of state-of-the-art international flood-control findings and literature -- the Trinity River project has always been atrociously bad flood-control policy. The road is merely the worst example. It's all bad.

The core design of the project flies in the face of everything scientists and engineers have learned about flood control in the last half century. It is a dangerous plan based on outmoded thinking and dishonest huckstering.

For decades, flood-control experts have been warning us not to put additional structures in the path of floodwaters. Drawing heavily on knowledge from the Netherlands, where the world's most sophisticated flood-control policies have been developed for obvious reasons, the experts have been telling us to get out of the way of floodwaters, buy out and remove threatened buildings and never to build new levees or flood walls where they are not absolutely necessary.

There is a reason why the George W. Bush White House took this plan out of its budget, forcing Dallas to get it done with earmarks instead. For the same reason, the Obama White House wouldn't put it back in the budget. The toll road idea -- building a multilane high-speed limited access road out between the levees in the flood zone -- was over the top and bad enough, but the project itself is what's really wrong.

This plan has us building new levees downriver from downtown that will greatly endanger downtown and protect only speculative development property, not southern Dallas neighborhoods as former Mayor Ron Kirk falsely promised. The lakes and meanders and other embroideries were added on to get votes without the slightest comprehension or concern about their effect on flood control.

The mantra of the city manager's staff has been that we can build anything we want out there without any effect on flooding, just by excavating and removing an amount of soil equivalent to the structure we add. That's a stupid contention -- enough to get a first-year engineering student kicked out of class.

This is the sound of people talking when they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. We have had horrible leadership on this issue from city staff -- so bad it calls into question the whole scheme of "professional" city management.

Every single thing we do down along the river exercises an effect on the water, and from the very beginning those effects should have been our first and overwhelmingly central concern. The staff should have known that. If they did know it and kept it to themselves, somebody ought to be indicted.

The thing D publisher Wick Allison forgot to tell Mooney was this: This whole project is stupid and dangerous -- thought up and pandered to the public by dumbbells and liars. That's the part -- the dumbbells and liars part -- that the people at D would like to traipse over as quietly as possible. And Mooney did just that for them.

But like I say, Mooney's piece was well written. I would offer only this advice: Next time you start a new job, Mr. Mooney, and the first assignment the boss hands you is a major restatement of editorial policy on a topic you know nothing about, ask yourself why you were chosen.

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richard schumacher
richard schumacher

It's being held up while those who can be held liable work out their escape.

Whodunnit
Whodunnit

Hey, it's almost the end of July. Where is the final report from the Army Corps of Engineers on the Levee fixes?

Skiggs
Skiggs

I didn't actually think Mooney's column was that well written.

PaddleFoot
PaddleFoot

Sounds like we need a draft Angela movement to put her in charge of the committee.  Unfortunately, even if that happens, the committee is spoon fed information by the city staff, and they have very little real authority over any spending here in Dallas.  First priority should be buying out flooded homes to turn into parkland.  Second should be to kill any part of the plan to extend the levy system.  Frankly since the tollway is dead, stop putting any money into that plan.  Then help out Jason Roberts and the folks from Oak Cliff who want to put in trails.  None of this is expensive; all of it beneficial to the city.

In the end the real question is where the bond money went since little of real value has been done on the Trinity.  I notice that neither the DMN nor D magazine have touched that question.  I guess they don't have any interest in chasing waste, fraud, and abuse.

mynameisURL
mynameisURL

Splendid work, Shootz. Your duelling coverage of this issue between D, DMN and the Observer have been keeping me wildly entertained since I moved to the DFW area in 2004.

And to think, I was worried that there wouldn't be as much juicy political sewage to wade through here in Dallas as there was in my previous locale.

Although, I was kinda' jazzed about the whole "solar water taxi" thingy.

And yeah, Mooney probably didn't know he was slated for the Jim Carrey role in "Fun With Dick & Jane". 

*Burp* Delicious!

Deep_Sigh
Deep_Sigh

Funny how D turns off comments when they know they'll get verbally smacked around......

Dallasite
Dallasite

I think it is time for Allyn Media, Steve Blow and others to publicly apologize to Angela Hunt.  The personal attacks on her for speaking the truth were very unfair.  Thank you Jim for the excellent reporting.  You deserve an award!

Jay
Jay

In 20 years, people will remember (or not) the idea of building a toll road between levees and will shrug in disbelief that such a patently stupid idea actually had traction. As I always said, "nothing is impossible for someone who doesn't have to actually do it, live with it, or pay for it."

Snookie Pie
Snookie Pie

You mean, D Magazine does not agree with Jim Schutze, not that he misses the Trinity Toll Road Story, but that he does not dance in step with your view.

Tom L (No, Not That L)
Tom L (No, Not That L)

I'd still like to know who the heck was pushing this thing so hard for so long. And what suddenly changed. Did some Citizens Council type die recently? Did the Corps finally man up and tell the city there really is no way their tollway is ever going to get built?

JimS
JimS

My guess is that either somebody didn't get laid or somebody didn't get made vice chair of the Crystal Charity Ball, and everything else, like the city no longer being condemned to perish in a  flood, is just fall-out.

cp
cp

I think that maybe the Dallas Observer might have had a hand with their pesky open records requests. Also, those emails from the ACOE and city staff were pretty damning.

Bob
Bob

Here's a thought. Or a conspiracy.

Harlan Crow was one of Wick investors when he repurchased D Magazine. Harlan owns the Anatole (and other property?) along the River. Trinity property owners benefit from development of the Trinity. Wick uses his magazine and blog and editors to push for the project as a favor to Harlan.

Tom Leppert wants to build a convention center hotel. Harland Crow finances the opposing forces. Wick Allison loudly comes out against the hotel even though he professed his admiration for Leppert and named him D CEO of the Year. Strange about face.

Harlan Crow announces this year that he we will no longer support (finance?) local politics. Wick, who often sells us his favorites (e.g. Ron Kirk, Rep. Corona) declares this year's race "boring" and does not publicly endorse any of the final two candidates. One could argue that he "booked" Natinsky's win last December, but that was before Harlan's proclamation and after he was whispered sweet nothings by Carol Reed, a favorite source of information about local politics for D Publishing.

Count
Count

I've wondered why I see very little mention of the pockets influencing Wick.

Sam
Sam

OK so how did Austin build a Town Lake (Ladybird Lake)?

Marc
Marc

Above Town Lake (now called Ladybird Lake) there are six other Highland Lakes starting with Lake Buchanan, all of which can and do control floodwaters streaming toward Austin in the Colorado River's floodplain which begins as several forks in West Texas. It is easy enough to control the floodwaters along the Colorado through Austin most of the time.

That river is also a much larger volume river than the Trinity, and below Austin it is primarily farm and ranch land for many miles with a LOT of absorbent soil to take the water from the river. The geology of the Colorado basin is vastly different from the geology of Dallas and the Upper Trinity River watershed. For one thing, you have a formation of rolling hills and often deep valleys that naturally form levees to contain floodwaters, such as  you see around Marble Falls.

Also, a LOT of sand was used in creating the present levee system in Dallas, and the USACE is supremely concerned that long-term flooding and saturation will result in weakening the levees leading to a levee failure with results similar to New Orleans' 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina. 

JimS
JimS

Great question. Different geology?I know that when Adlene Harrison was regional EPA chief, she asked the EPA staff to look at the lake idea in Dallas on the Trinity, and she told me the staff came back and said lakes would never work on the Trinity because of the geology. Unfortunately, I skipped school the day they taught geology. Edgar?

Ben
Ben

One of the best descriptions of the "sand" issue was written many decades ago in a Dallas Morning News article entitled "Doctor Shuler Goes Elephant Hunting"

http://st002.newsbank.com/cach...

It lays out the whole sand thing. Where it came from, where it was deposited, where one can find it. When that sand gets wet enough, it liquifies. Turns to quicksand. Quicksand so nasty that it trapped mammoth after mammoth. From Old City Park to Loop 12 and beyond. Article in the pdf lays it all out. Camels, antelope, tigers. The quicksand provided enough fossilized elephants that the Trinity elephants are now in museums worldwide. The museum at Fair Park even has one. Still stained with that orange-red clay that is all the trouble for the toll road.

Bits and pieces of bone are pretty easy to come by today if you know where to look.

SemperFiWM
SemperFiWM

What about Bachman?  White Rock?  Eagle Mountain?

Laray
Laray

Because the area's a porous sub-crop recharge zone for the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer?

Edgar
Edgar

Don't know.  I guess they just had a "can-do" attitude.

Sharon Boyd
Sharon Boyd

On election night at the watch party -- I believe I told you that you had only lost a battle that the campaign gave you, Angela Hunt, et al, a vehicle to get the message out, and that you would win the war.  You did.  

Cliff Dweller
Cliff Dweller

That's right Sharon, I recall hearing several people that night saying losing this doesn't matter, the thing will never get built anyway. 

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

JS, you're right; you've been right; and I predict you will continue to be right.  One very small suggestion though: more criticism of city staff.  How does none of this dirty floodwater ever splash on Mary Suhm?  Don't like the Trinity project, code enforcement, streets and infrastructure, city service delivery, low-income housing, or any other problem with our home town?  There's one person at the head of all these.  It's a Council/Manager system, and we voted to keep it that way.  It might be time to look at making a change at CEO, and the CEO is not the Mayor.

It may not be a coincidence that her recent media appearances resemble campaign spots.

CRA
CRA

Just wait J. Erik Jonsson, Suhm and other top City Staffers are about to experience the worst time in their entire history. They will receive their fair share of the blame, trust me, and their days are limited. 

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

I've been asking this same question for a year now.

plfarmer
plfarmer

Ok, you won that one. The whole city owes you a solid. Thanks for stopping the people more worried about thier wallet then if someone would die.Remember the line by Jason Robarbs in 'All the President's Men',Congradulations, good job, take the day off. Then get your ass back in gear, only the first amendment and maybe democracy is on the line.

You live in a target rich enviroment here in Texas

jfpo
jfpo

To finish Bradlee's (Robards') quote: "If you boys f**k up again, I'm going to get mad."

Edgar
Edgar

@Jim: I get why building additional levees downstream would exacerbate flooding, and I have no doubt the tollroad would be bad for flood control (among other things), but I'm not even a first-year engineering student, so bear with me.  Assume that a road were to be built between existing levees, that an amount of soil were removed equivalent to the volume of the added structure, and that the excavated area was in close proximity to the added structure.  In that case, why is it that the excavation would not offset the structure?  Is it just a runoff issue (from a concrete road), or is there more to it?

Marc
Marc

Edgar, the reasons given by others are all valid, but there is another issue. Floods carry debris downriver. Some of that debris includes whole or large sections of trees that weight a LOT. Those trees, and the debris that piles up behind them in a flood, can cause the supporting piers of a bridge to fail catastrophically.

I was in the Hill Country in 2002, when the Upper Guad flooded. It rained for 17 straight days. Canyon Lake went from 267,000 acre feet to a million acre feet in 3 days. At the FM 311 bridge the river was over 43 feet deep (it is normally about 1-2 feet at that bridge.) Just upriver about a mile is the US Highway 281 bridge. State Troopers closed the bridge because they feared trees, in this case giant Bald Cypress trees weighing 10 tons or more each) would begin piling up on the BRIDGE, not the pilings of the bridge, and that the force of all that weight propelled by the force and speed of the water, would topple the bridge. The water was nearly flowing over the bridge.

One trooper clocked a Cypress tree at 43 mph with his hand-held radar unit. A 20,000 pound object moving at 43 mph can do some very serious damage to a structure it encounters. That is just one more reason why no toll road or other structure should EVER be built in a flood plain.

JimS
JimS

Here comes my brilliant career as a 7-year undergraduate English major. From what I understand, you have to take into account the rate of drop of the water and the geology of the river bottom. You can't excavate in ways that will substantially increase the gradient and make the water flow faster. The man who was the contractor for a major levee re-build on the Trinity ('50s? '60s?) told me that he could dig out enough dirt to compensate for the toll road, but to do so without changing the grade he would have to keep digging all the way down the river to a point 50 miles or so south of the city. How much does that cost? What do the people 30 miles downriver think about it? In the meantime you have  another problem -- a problem we still have, toll road or no toll road, if we try to build lakes.  The geology under the river is full of sand. If you get 50-60 feet of water piled up between the levees during a period of heavy rain, the water exerts a ferocious force straight down. If the water can find its way to a vein of sand, it will burrow through that sand like a  giant mining machine and, depending on where it winds up, maybe cave in the levees.There are other probems with lakes. You can also  create one big silt-trap with any depression out there, so that after one or two serious  high water events between the levees your lake has turned into quicksand.None of these is a reason it can't be done. Theoretically, there should be some way to build the lakes. Theoretically there is even a way to build the toll road.But you sit down at the table, and you take your knife in one hand. You say, O.K., this knife is flood control. And you take your fork in the other. You say, this fork is money. And then and only then sdo you start thinking about what to pile on your plate. You don't pile the plate up to the cieling with pork chops and then say, "Damn, how'm I gonna eat this?"

RTGolden
RTGolden

One might postulate that creating large bodies of standing water in an area that is supposed to absorb and control flood level volumes of water is somewhat self-defeating.  Besides, the silt/sand floodplain directly under and surrounding the lakes would end up saturated (from the lake water) and your absorption quotient would be reduced that much more.

Montemalone
Montemalone

Theoretically, warp speed travel is possible, but we haven't done that yet, either.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

I imagine the fact that you're replacing permeable soil with impermeable concrete does not make the structure equivalent to what was excavated.  Plus the shape of the structure might have an effect too, in terms of channeling/deflecting runoff.  Not an engineer either, just guessing.

Phelps
Phelps

This is it. Flood control isn't about volume -- that is just warehousing the water until something can be done with it. That something is absorption, and you need honest to goodness floodplain -- soil -- for that.

Edgar
Edgar

True (regarding shape).  Also, removing soil in this case means digging deeper out in the floodway, and I suspect depth might matter...the deeper the point where the water and dirt meet, the shallower the interval of absorptive soil above the bedrock...that would mean less absorption and more water at the surface.  Just wondering if there's something more fundamental I'm missing.

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Now that Dave Neumann is gone, I wonder who Mayor Mike will give the Trinity River Committee chair to? Talk about your 'plague' position.

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