Are Former Trinity Toll Road Defenders Lining Up at the Confessional?
D Magazine's Tim Rogers covered last week's Trinity toll road public hearing for Frontburner, which is more than I did for my own newspaper, so maybe it's my guilt tilting me toward his favor. I found myself feeling sorry for him when his boss, Wick Allison, commented below his item last week: "This is not a grade A report on a public transportation meeting. For example, did anything happen?"
Ah, but you see, I read it, and my first thought was, "This is, in fact, a Grade A report on a public transportation meeting." Really. Honestly. No-irony alert. I mean it.
Because Rogers captured the most significant thing that did happen. Architect Bob Meckfessell, who was a prominent spear-carrier for the pro toll road camp during the 2007 referendum, has changed his mind. He told Rogers before the meeting that he's now against the road. The minute Rogers heard that, it was time for him to leave and file his story, which he did partially. He left and went to a bar. In my book that's an honest 50 percent.
In the piece he filed eventually, Rogers did go into florid detail about the kind of spiritual and physical abuse to which publications subject journalists by forcing them cover events like last Thursday night's Trinity toll road forum. You have no idea, do you? These events are cleverly engineered by fiendish brain scientists to cause violent boredom, aneurysm and death in people who attend one too many of them. I thought Rogers did a brilliant job capturing the agony of it, the way they have dozens of people from Cup-Halff-Full Engineering standing at a microphone in a dank cavern humming incomprehensible engineering gibberish until everyone in the audience starts drooling and then falls over dead.
Look, I couldn't go. I've already been to three. They say it's the fourth one that packs you off to the wiggy ward for good. But Rogers got it. By talking to Meckfessell, he captured the needle of meaning in the haystack of hooey. The people who misled us in 2007 are slowly coming to admit their sins.
Another strange thing you may have noticed if you pawed through the comments to his item on Front Burner: a snarky observation to the effect that all of the things Meckfessell says are wrong with the toll road proposal now were wrong with it back in 2007 when he was going around town as head of Dallas AIA defending it. What's strange about a comment like that? It was posted by Sam Merten, who is now the chief spokesperson for Mayor Mike Rawlings.
I read Merten's comment, and I thought, "Oh, Sam, please be careful. You are not supposed to be out there saying stuff like that about the toll road." But I also knew he couldn't help himself.
In 2007 when Merten was a reporter for Dallas Blog, he repeatedly and mercilessly skewered the pro toll road camp for telling transparent lies about the project, sometimes saying one thing in front of one audience and the direct opposite in front of another, at other times saying opposite things in front of the same audience on the same night. He caught Meckfessell, for example, telling an audience that private philanthropy for the Trinity River project had stopped cold because of those dirty toll road foes and their nasty little referendum. But under cross-examination by then City Council member Angela Hunt at that same event, Meckfessell conceded that the money was still rolling in.
Stopped cold, still rolling in: two different things, same night, same audience.
Another thing Merten drilled them on back then was the issue of trucks on the toll road. When they were hitting up a major truck-center developer in southern Dallas for campaign money, the pro toll roaders said that sucker would be loaded with trucks, trucks, trucks galore all day and all night as soon as it opened. But Michael Morris of the North Central Texas Council of Governments vowed directly to Merten that no truck would ever foul the pavement of the Trinity toll road.
Trucks galore, no trucks ever. The proponents of the toll road back then were absolutely shameless, as they are to this day in their willingness to bend the data, put a fat thumb on the scale and say whatever they have to say to get their roads built. It is deeply meaningful that a guy like Meckfessel has come around. Except for the thing about dried-up donations, his major sins back then more often involved blurting the truth when he wasn't supposed to, so it's not like he's a war criminal or anything. But it means a lot for him to state his opposition to the toll road now so bluntly and explicitly.
So, after all this buttering up, maybe Rogers will think about doing the story we all really want to read -- the behind-the-scenes skinny on how he and Wick turned around on the toll road. I would hold my breath, but I'm having allergy issues, so how about you hold yours for the both of us, OK?