The Bogus 'Detour' Argument for the Trinity Toll Road is Finally Dead
Wait. Click the pause button. Freeze this. There's a huge point here that some people do not want us to notice. In the last 24 hours, the entire debate about the Trinity River toll road has completely shifted ground.
I was just now on the phone about it with City Council member Scott Griggs. He pointed out that if you read The Dallas Morning News this morning, you are not going to see any mention of the real news.
Up until yesterday, the News has always reported in news columns and insisted on its editorial page that there is no way to fix the old freeways downtown unless we build a new toll road out in the flood zone along the Trinity River first as a construction detour. The News' editorial page has insisted for years that the toll road is the horse and Project Pegasus, the state's plan to improve the Stemmons Freeway corridor, is the carriage to bring us downtown congestion relief.
Over the last few weeks, Griggs and council members Angela Hunt and Sandy Greyson have been questioning state highway officials about that thesis. What they have learned is that it's just flat not true. Highway planners have told them if they need temporary detours, they'll do what they do on every other construction project in Texas and the world and build temporary detours.
Think about it. Who builds an entire new multibillion-dollar freeway as a detour? Did they do that when they rebuilt the entire length of Central Expressway? Did they do that when they rebuilt the "high five" intersection of Central and LBJ?
Pegasus, a creature of myth, much like the arguments in favor of the Trinity toll road: not real, won't fly and full of horse shit.
Of course not. They built detours. People rerouted themselves. The projects went on for years. Most people didn't even notice.
The toll-road-as-detour argument was always idiotic, but it stuck around stubbornly until about 24 hours ago, when Greyson, Griggs and Hunt finally got it shot down.
Now Michael Morris, who is the toll road lobbyist and public political operative at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, seems to have given up on the detour argument entirely. He's quoted instead in the News today and, more saliently in an online post yesterday, arguing that Project Pegasus itself is a piece of crap not worth doing.
That's a very radical argument, especially since the state highway department is already halfway pregnant with Pegasus: the first half of the project, called "The Horseshoe," is already under way.
News transportation writer Michael Lindenberger reports online that Morris told him, "Pegasus Project, once touted as the top priority for fixing downtown traffic, no longer makes any sense to build at all -- even if the toll road is unable to be built for other reasons. It's too expensive and produces too few traffic benefits."
Wow. That's wild. But remember our freeze-frame. What are we about to miss in this picture? We're about to miss -- because Lindenberger doesn't show it -- that Morris has given up on the billion-dollar detour argument.
Griggs said to me this morning that the entire debate on the toll road has shifted in the last 24 hours: "It's a paradigm shift that's been almost invisible and practically unnoticed. One day we go from, 'You have to have the toll road to build Pegasus, because there's no other way,' to now a head-to-head comparison between the toll road and Pegasus."
In that shift, Griggs said, "You are admitting that there is a way to do Pegasus without the toll road. It's a paradigm shift. It's amazing how fast it has happened, how quickly."
He's right. And the shift puts Morris in an absolutely zany position where he has to argue that Pegasus, vaunted for decades as the single most important transportation project in downtown, is a piece of junk.
If that's true, somebody needs to fire a whole bunch of traffic engineers, not to mention the political appointees on the state highway commission who have been vowing just the opposite for decades. It's especially crazy, given that Pegasus is under construction already. Should we abandon it, if it's such a waste of money?
This is flailing. Stripped of the detour argument, Morris is trying to save his horse by setting the carriage on fire.
Morris works for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, a "metropolitan planning organization" mandated by federal law. MPO's have been around since the 1960s. They are the federal government's attempt to bring rational comprehensive planning to the spending of federal highway dollars. Morris is supposed to be a kind of technocratic numbers guy.
But that's not how he really rolls. Instead Morris has emerged over the years as a political hustler, a paid shill for the old Dallas elite, who want to build a toll road out in the flood zone along the river because they stupidly think it will enable them to redevelop their worn-out low-rent riverside warehouse district as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
This guy will say anything, and now he's really desperate to salvage his deal. He's a "rational planner" whose statements are beginning to sound like they should be accompanied by a chorus of wooden flutes and bongo drums.
Today's developments are the proof. In the weeks ahead, numbers will emerge proving that Pegasus is far and away the most cost effective way to reduce traffic congestion downtown.
At that point I expect a news conference in which Morris will appear standing on a pyramid wearing robes made of the flayed skin of a female virgin to predict that failure to build the toll road will trigger the end of the world as predicted by ancient Mayans. We must all hope that's not true.