Killing the Trinity Toll Road Could Be the Best Bargain in Big D

Categories: Schutze

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Several of you have asked me to explain a point in my column in this week's newspaper about the Trinity River toll road and why it may be unstoppable.

Sorry. Should have done it in the column. And as it turns out, I had this wrong on two scores, one more important than the other.

I say in the paper this week that it would cost half a million bucks to get enough signatures on petitions to force a new referendum on this bad, bad Leroy Brown of a road. That's not right. The mistake is my fault, based on my own misinterpretation of what I was being told last week.

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Die evil road! Die! Die!
People involved in the 2007 Trinity River referendum tell me now it would cost more like $150,000 to pay a commercial signature-gathering firm to get enough John Hancocks on petitions to force an election. The rest of the $500,000 figure, they say -- about $350,000 -- would pay for the kind of TV advertising and direct mail needed to get out the vote.

I am calling them "they" and not naming them because right now none of them is committed to an effort like this, and they don't want me to make them look like they are.

But this is much better news. It means somebody capable of writing a six-figure check could put this thing back on the ballot and change the nature of the city forever.

My argument in the column is that if this dog ever goes back to the voters it will die, because this time around it would be up against a clearly superior alternative. If, instead of building a brand-new freeway right on top of the city's only major natural geographic feature, we fix the freeways we already have, we will spend way less money and get much more congestion relief as a result, according to the state highway department's own numbers.

The toll road can't compete with Project Pegasus, the former plan to fix Stemmons Freeway and its interchanges.

If we're finally able to drive a stake in this bad road's heart, Dallas will be converted from a shut-door, air-conditioned, hot-house flower of a city into a place with a vast and wonderful urban forest park at its very core. That's a destiny-changer.

Those of you who have asked me about costs all tend all to be of the hate-the-road camp. But you want to know why it has to cost so much to get the signatures.

A reader put it this way: "Can't you just sit outside every polling station in Dallas and collect signatures on election day? I would assume it'd be easier now than it was before. Especially since tools like Twitter and Facebook have overthrown dictators in multiple countries ... a toll road seems easy. Enlighten me please."

First of all, that could be right. Maybe social media have changed the rules of the road on stuff like this. Who knows?

Because Dallas is a "home-rule" city, the Texas Constitution gives it broad powers to set its own rules for initiative and referendum. Go to page 72 of the City Charter for the details.

Basically, a committee of five citizens files its petition with the city secretary and then has only 60 days from the date of filing to gather signatures equal to 10 percent of "qualified" voters in Dallas, a number based on turn-out in previous elections.

The other side, the road boosters, will do as they did last time and hire professionals to go out and harass people out of signing. This stuff gets tough. That's why I say in the column it's not a children's crusade.

The term, qualified voter, has always been taken to mean registered voter, with a floating population of about 100,000 registered voters in the city, more or less. It costs anywhere from $2 to $20 per signature to pay someone to gather signatures. Two bucks is for the easy ones. Twenty bucks is for squeezing out the remaining hard-to-get ones. A total cost of $150,000, then, is a loose estimate.

I said I was wrong on two scores. I was wrong on the money. But the bigger, better way in which I was wrong -- one I'm actually happy about -- was my own pessimism about the chances for a new election. I just thought half a million bucks was way more than anybody could raise for signatures alone.

But half a million bucks for the signatures and the campaign together seems more doable. Let's say some angel or angels kick in $150,000 to get the petitions done. At that point, raising the other $350,000 would be much easier.

I say doable. That's if nobody looks to me for the $150,000. I think at one time or another such a sum must have passed through my hands, but, sadly, those funds are no longer with us.

But if somebody else has got that kind of money, here's your chance to create an entire new city. How many times does an opportunity like that come along?

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Kpryan
Kpryan

I'm convinced the ultimate plan is something like this:

After the installation of a couple of more 'reliever routes' they will turn ALL 'free'ways into toll roads; with the higher quality (newer reliever routes) costing 50 - 80% more than the old dilapidated freeways (now tollroutes) so again the rich will drive (or their driver's will drive and they'll be in the rear seat) on the more expensive road ... until they get the city or county or state to allow tolls to be subsidized by being Tax Write Offs!  So in the end they will be driving for free on the new fancy reliever routes and the rest of the beer swillers will be navigating their jalopies btwn the potholes and ruts and paying extra for the priviledge.

Primi timpano
Primi timpano

To expand on colluses' comment, the streets bounding the mentioned parks are not freeways. There are no freeways on the interior parts of London and Paris , much less freeways in the Thames or Seine.

As for a referendum, stay on message. Propose that no more money or staff time be spent on the Trinity until Pegausus is completed, and that any future Trinity spending be subject to future approval by the voters.

Perhaps a separate resolution naming the Trimity park after the donor putting up the $500.

joseph l
joseph l

Yeah what we need is to waste a lot more money and time refighting a fight yet again that has already been won.  The problem for you is, that those of us out here in the reality based community who are dispassionate about this, will look at the facts and probably come to the exact same conclusion that our duly elected municipal representatives from left to right have come to if there is another wasteful election. The road is necessary and the objections not worth much.

The whole fantasy that some how an urban park in the middle of a big city crossed by I don't know how many freeways and six lane bridges will be some kind of bucolic, tranquil sylvan paradise if it has one less road is just not realistic.

Dallas seems to be winning the battle to re-energize its urban core and they need to get on with it. The road and the park as well as other freeway enhancements.  If you look at population projections for this area it is clear that we are going to need a lot more roads if central Dallas is going to compete with its politically docile suburbs where people seem to get along a little better, and not become a blighted 'inner city'.

If you have a look at the World's most beloved city parks (you can do this easily with a little web-surfing, you don't have to go there), you will note that they mostly are crossed by fairly high speed roads like the one proposed.

1. New York's Central Park is surrounded by 6 lane avenues and crossed by a parkway (at 72nd Street).

2. Ditto for London's Hyde Park

3. DItto for Paris' Bois de Boulogne

4. Ditto for Buenos Aires' Bosques de Palermo

A bigger problem for the Trinity Park will be the din coming from all those elevated freeways, and nobody is proposing to tear them down. At least the aesthetic designs of the bridges may mitigate the ugliness a little.

As for the engineering challenges of construction in a flood plain: if they can build hundreds of miles of interstate across swamps and the Atchafalaya basin as well as a 27 mile long causeway across Lake Pontchartain in Louisiana, it seems like some one could engineer a road in the Trinity flood plain.

Time to admit defeat and move on.

richard schumacher
richard schumacher

Given enough money one could engineer anything.  The fact remains that rebuilding lower Stemmons, the Mixmaster and the Canyon (collectively, the Pegasus Project) would provide all the traffic relief of the Trinity floodway toll road and cost about $500 million less.

Collosus
Collosus

I cannot stop laughing at the anti-park / pro-tollroad's recent Hail Mary (Suhm). So let's get this straight. There's no money for the road, but the City will find somewhere? And the Mayor - who officially has the power of an at-large city councilor - says he for it, so now it will definitely move forward? 

Har har. Stop it. Yer killing me.

What can we learn from Joseph I's amusing post above? I mean, besides that fact Joe (can I call you Joe?) knows their AP stylebook?

Other than redirects and misinformation, anti-park / pro-toll road opponents do not have a cohesive strategy for overcoming public opposition to building the road and killing the park. In 2007, they created a confusing ballot. Using joseph I's straw man argument, they will say that the great parks of the world are surrounded by freeways. (Sorry, Central Park is NOT surrounded by 6 lane avenues. Your memory is very 1980s, pal). I've been to all of the other parks. There are no "high speed" roads in the middle of those parks.

Joseph is right about one thing. The original plan was not to build a park; the 1997 bond was about building roads and greasing the wheels of commerce, like public affairs consultants. The problem now is that Dallas voters have become wise to the original intent, and the angriest will be happy to bleed the real estate interests and the City for selling a lie to voters. Twice. I hate this. What a waste of time and money.

It's time for anti-park / pro-tollroad crowd to end the deception and move to paving another part of Dallas.

georgewbush
georgewbush

Go Project:Pegasus! Some of my favorite comic books!

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

If all else fails we need to name key parts of the Toll Road for the people who were for this idiot idea.  Name it after Leppert and Rawlings.   Name parts of it after former council man and cheer leader Nuenan (or what ever his name was).   So that when it does go belly up due to excessive maintenance costs due to flooding then we will remember who was responsible.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Gather the signatures . Get all up in arms over it .

Those who control the Ballot wording will prevail.

If you Favor clubbing Kittens and puppy's using baby Bunnies and want to Stop the Trinity Tollway.....

 

Larry
Larry

Just ask  Rawlings to swim across the Trinity; maybe Karma will prevail.

Joecook
Joecook

Building a freeway through or over a park defeats the purpose of having a park. Can you imagine a freeway through Central Park in NYC - or even through Lee Park or Kiest Park in Dallas? Such an idea brings to mind poor urban kids playing ball under the freeway; and does not seem at all safe. Best case scenario- joggers and bikers will zoom around "lakes" with headphones drowning out the noise. The park may give viewing pleasure to the toll roaders trucking into downtown, but it would NOT be the best urban planning for Dallas residents.

joseph l
joseph l

There is a similar high speed road through Central Park, at 72nd Street. Not to mention Central Park is bordered on all sides by eight lane roads.

GregMarcydaGama
GregMarcydaGama

This could be the real deal. If it's Powers, or, whomever, contact me on FB. I know Dallas, social media, and how to raise money. Former President of the Greenville Ave. Merchants Association. Talk to me. Dallas is my city. Peace. ~ / ~ OM

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

As I said earlier, if you create a 'protect the Trinity River floodplain environment from highways, and shale gas exploration" not only am I in but many more citizens groups will join too. We have data bases of contacts. Hello Winfrey Point peeps? Email me: darrd2010@gmail.com

This coming Wednesday is Council day talking about drilling AND more maps will be revealed as to where hey want it to happen. I hope Mayor Mime is reading this.

S Aten
S Aten

Before you start gathering signatures, you need to be aware that the city of Dallas is located in 3 counties, Collin, Dallas & Denton counties.    Not all registered voters in Dallas County live in the city of Dallas.    The folks who wanted a a Tollroad not only intimadated folks who tried to sign the petition, they also got the city attorney to write the ballot proposition in such a way that some people who wanted to vote against the tollroad ended up voting for it.     You have to get a professional involved in getting the petition worded correctly, raising the money & getting the volunteers.    

Mo
Mo

I second that. Lets quash this Trinity Bullshit. I'm in for 10k. 

billmarvel
billmarvel

"harass people out of signing"I've signed a petition or two in the past, never been harassed. What, exactly, do they do?

Tom L
Tom L

Way back in 1870's (more or less), the city of Dallas started trying to get a navigable Trinity River so that we could share in that sweet sweet barge traffic going up and down the Trinity from the port of Houston. The idea didn't definitively die until 1973 when voters finally and overwhelmingly rejected it.

So at this rate we can expect the Trinity Riverbottom Highway to finally die right around the year 2098.

East Dallas Dad
East Dallas Dad

Could we do a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $150 K or is that site only for business ventures?

Popo Pony
Popo Pony

I would donate to that. Find a big money guy to match the donations.

Lemurskin
Lemurskin

I was wonder the same thing.

wilme2
wilme2

I got $1000 to donate if you can get another 149 people lined up to do the same...

Texasdave60
Texasdave60

Enlighten me, please:  Can the gathering of signatures begin taking place before the filing with CIty Sec?

Philip Goss
Philip Goss

I've got $10 and a signature to whoever wants to get this kicked off. 

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

 as long as it's a comprehensive 'protect the Trinity River floodplain, park land from any type of highway or gas drilling', I'm in too.

Tom L
Tom L

 I could go for that.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

@Marks Powers: Somewhere in the neighborhood of 55,000.

Marks Powers
Marks Powers

Well, if someone wanted to organize social media to get the signatures, I would adopt a2 prong attack starting 60 days before the November 2012 general election, i.e.about September 10, 2012.

The first prong would be getting signatures at existing Dallas Parks.  People who visit Dallas Parks are more likely to be against building a toll road through one…  There appear to be about 335 parks in Dallas:www.dallasparks.org/Downloads/...I would try to organize via social media at least 250 volunteers to be at these 335 parks until they get at least 120 signatures each = 30,000 total signatures, during the 6weekends leading up to the election.

The second prong would be getting signatures during the 2012 General Election in November.  This has the advantage of appealing to qualified voters during a heavy election turnout.  There appear to be about 555 Dallas Precincts that voted in the Dallas Mayor 2011 election:http://results.enr.clarityelec...(tab 26 = Dallas Mayor)I would try to organize via social media at least 300 volunteers to be at these 555precincts to obtain 100 signatures each = 30,000 total signatures.

That is 60,000 total signatures which should be more than enough, given some may bedisqualified.

My first order of business would be to pay some hacker $100 to hack into Mayor Mike’s Facebook page to get a list of all the hundreds who commented negatively to his request for opinions on the Trinity Toll Road…https://www.facebook.com/perma...

CanCountTo15000
CanCountTo15000

 Your datelines are a little off. The signatures would have to be turned in within 60 days of the start of the campaign. Even assuming you are verifying them as you go along (checking VUID numbers for each one), you would need at least 10 days to verify the last round of signatures from election day, sort them and box them for delivery to the City Secretary, who provides the final verification of good v evil signatures.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

For reference, TrinityVote gathered more than 91,000 signatures in 2007. Although a final tally of how many of those were disqualified was never released to my knowledge, I understood at the time that tens of thousands were tossed out for various reasons. However, there were enough good ones to meet the requirement then of 48,218.

Marks Powers
Marks Powers

Thus, you are assuming there are 550,000 qualified voters in Dallas and 10% = 55,000.

"60 days from the date of filing to gather signatures equal to 10 percent of "qualified" voters in Dallas, a number based on turn-out in previous elections." 

Thus, appears it is not how many people actually voted, just the qualified voters which means all those registered to vote...? 550,000 seems a little high, given the total population of Dallas = 1.2 million...? and some of those have to be children and agnostics, immigrants, etc. that are not registered...

Marks Powers
Marks Powers

Ok, think your 55,000 signature / 550,000 qualified voters is closer than I thought...http://www.dalcoelections.org/...*Looking at the largest voter turnout November elections, in 2010 428,655 ballots were cast.  That is for Dallas County. *In 2008 Presidential election, over 740K ballots were cast, that was heavy turnout.  Again for all of Dallas County.*In the combined 2010 Republican/Democratic primaries, about 150K ballots were cast.*But in the May 2011 Mayor election, appears only 70,000 people voted, and less than that for the runoff.

Ian
Ian

Required number of signatures has nothing to do with votes cast in past elections....it's all about the most recently available list of registered voters.

Per charter: "The petition must contain the names of a number of qualified voters in the city equal to 10 percent of the qualified voters of the City of Dallas as appears from the latest available county voter registration list."

With voter registration drives related to the congressional, county commissioner and other big races, expect that ~543K number for the city of Dallas to grow throughout the year.

Ian
Ian

Dallas County says there were 543,458 registered voters as of last year's mayoral runoff.

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

If you hadn't have handed over the rights to The Accommodation to JWP, that woulda been worth $150,000 right there.

Maybe it's time for a TV series based on Bully.

JimS
JimS

Sam, I am working on a Bully-themed thing now, but it's more of a how-to.

Toldyaso
Toldyaso

ONLY natural geographic feature?  What about the green slopes of the escarpment in southwest Dallas that overlooks the great grand prairie?   

joseph l
joseph l

Not to mention whit Rock Lake...

Marks Powers
Marks Powers

Jim, for someone to determine if this is possible via Social Media, please provide a more concrete number for the number of signatures needed.  That is, about how many is 10% of qualified voters:

"60 days from the date of filing to gather signatures equal to 10 percent of "qualified" voters in Dallas, a number based on turn-out in previous elections."

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

I can provide the math assist here (and the "read the article" assist)

Qualified = registered

100,000 registered voters x 10% = 10,000 signatures

cp
cp

I don't think qualified = registered. Otherwise, wouldn't the charter say that specifically? 

scottindallas
scottindallas

Not sure Twitter overthrew any dictators.  God, won't Americans stop crediting themselves with everything that happens in the world.  Twitter was how most US people, journalists included followed what was going on.  Twitter was used far less in those countries themselves.  Again, our crediting twitter for the overthrow is like a sports fan seriously crediting a win to his lucky t-shirt.

Alfredo
Alfredo

Moving toward an NBA type playoff format for elections.  Should the road be a best of seven series.  We could put it on the ballot at every election for the next few years.

Heywood U Buzzoff
Heywood U Buzzoff

here's your chance to create an entire new city<./i>

Schutzeachusettes? Jimboanapolis?  Bleeding Heart Liberalville?  New Detroit? 

billmarvel
billmarvel

Hey, Wood,Don't you think it's a little cheap to steal a faux name from the Magliozzi Brothers?  

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