The Trinity Toll Road Will Flood, Expert Admits. Who Knew? Me.

Categories: Schutze

Archimede_bain.jpg
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Sadly -- or luckily -- unlike Archimedes, Jim did not leap from his tub to run about naked in the streets, shouting eureka.
The Pulitzer Prizes just came out. Once again I scan the list, searching for yours truly. Not a mention. But next year it will be different. Next year my early work on the Trinity River toll road is going to win me the Pulitzer and possibly also the Nobel and if they have a prize that's like a boy genius Einstein award for just being great, I'll be picking that one up, too, thank you.

Of course, tooting my own horn goes against my basic modesty, a quality for which I may possibly be in for some recognition as well one day. But in this instance, I really must toot.

If you missed it, Robert Wilonksy had a story yesterday in the Morning News saying the federal government has decided that if you put a freeway out in the area between the levees along the river where it floods, the freeway will flood. This finding is based on 20 years of research, countless studies and millions of dollars worth of scientific, engineering and environmental examination.

The concept here -- build it, and it will flood -- should and could and ought to be called the Jim Schutze theorem. I am not asking for that, because of my modesty. I just want the prize money. But this is, in fact, the Jim Schutze theorem: Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is slated to release the full seven-and-a-half-zillion-page document not counting appendices in which the corps will explain how they figured out that if you build a freeway out between the levees in the area where it floods, it will flood.

If you don't mind, I would like to tell how I came up with this 20 years ago and get that on the record before Friday. In 1996 I was the Dallas bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle. They asked me to write a story about the Trinity River project. I talked to this lady who worked for the Texas Department of Transportation who explained to me that Dallas really wanted a road along the river (meaning somebody in Dallas wanted it) but that such a road would never qualify for big federal and state dollars because it wouldn't do much to relieve traffic congestion. The basic problem has always been that the Trinity River road is not planned to go where traffic wants to go. That's still the bottom-line reason why it has never been built.

She didn't say it back then, but the road along the river has always been what is called in the trade a "development road." Rather than relieving traffic, its purpose is to create new traffic by bringing cars into an area of land that somebody wants to develop.

The problem was and is: How can you build it without the big federal and state bucks? The solution was to get free land -- right-of-way nobody would have to pay for.

So that is when the somebodies, whoever they may be, came up with the idea of building their freeway on the "free" land out between the levees, where it floods twice a year, sometimes not by much, sometimes way up high on the sides of the levees. During those really high floods, the levee system fills up sort of like a 23-mile-long bathtub.

The bathtub! This really is where the Jim Schutze theorem was born. In the tub. No, really. Look, I don't want to take you deeper into my personal life than you may feel comfortable going, but I will tell you that I am a big personal fan of the tub.

I was in the tub, in fact, when it came to me. Hey, did you ever see that thing on PBS about Einstein and how he was riding around Vienna on a streetcar one day for some reason and he saw all these people and horses going by in all directions and the theory of relativity just popped into his head? Well that's what happened to me.

Here's what I did. I drained the tub. I took these little smooth rocks that my wife keeps stacked up on the window sill (no idea why), and I placed several on the bottom of the tub. In my imagination, I pretended that they were little tiny cars and trucks and that they had little tiny human passengers in them.

I placed the plug back in the drain on the bottom of the tub. Then I fully opened both the hot and the cold water taps. And I watched to see what would happen to the little tiny human passengers.

Oh my gosh! The water was going right over the tops of them. They were drowning! Too late I realized I should have devised some kind of emergency evacuation plan to get the little tiny passengers out of their pretend-vehicles and up out of the tub before they all died. Sadly, because this was so early in my work, no such plan was in place, and you must imagine the outcome.

So why, you might ask, would I deserve prizes for this insight? Well, I must point out a couple of things. It has taken the Corps of Engineers 20 years to figure this same thing out. And every time Angela Hunt said all these same things during the 2007 referendum (I am willing to share the prize money with you, Angela), the other side always pointed out quite accurately that the entire elected and business leadership of the city of Dallas except for her was foursquare behind the idea of building a freeway out in the area between the flood control levees where it floods.

It was a very effective line in the ads against Hunt's referendum. She wanted to move the freeway out from between the levees and build it where it doesn't flood. But the other side always said, "What, are you and Schutze geniuses, and everybody else in leadership in Dallas is a moron?"

There are two possible answers. I like the first one -- Yes! -- for reasons I have already made clear. But the other thesis would be this: No, Schutze and Hunt were not geniuses to know that if you build it where it floods, it will flood. That took fairly minimal intelligence.

And no, the entire leadership of the city was not made up of morons. But it was made up almost entirely of little shiny-faced suck-ups -- engineering firms, construction companies, lawyers, architects, insurance salesmen, all of them greedy for new clients and billable hours, all of them aided and abetted by a daily newspaper desperate to survive and not eager to tick off major supporters. Not one of them spoke up for the little tiny human beings in the trucks and cars and buses. Why? Because they lacked the basic human decency to do so.

At the recent City Council briefing reported on by Wilonksy, council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston worried out loud about the human passengers in the vehicles on a freeway built to flood. Obviously Hunt worried about them when she was on the council, and I'm sure still does today. I believe we have a new cadre of leadership developing in Dallas that does have basic decency where public interest, welfare and safety are concerned. That's not the genius/moron paradigm, at all. It's the shiny-faced suck-up/decent human being paradigm.

But before we start talking too much about all that, I'd like my prizes first, please. And if I can't have prizes for my soggy toll road theorem, someday ask me what I also figured out while I was in the tub about bass fishing.


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54 comments
WylieH
WylieH

I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that the engineers don't what it to be built, either.  Instead, they just want to keep studying it for the next 100 years while "feeing" it to death..  This consulting project that keeps giving.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Why not build the road on pylons, one long bridge?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

I just want to know how much these emergency flood evacuation lanes are going to add to the cost

roo_ster
roo_ster

A few years back when we had the super-rainy spring, I drove across the Trinity on I30 and thought to myself, "They want to build a road in that?"  I loves me some roads, but I like them to stick around and to be able to drive on them.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

I don't know what everyone is whining about.  Just think of it as a really really large white water feature on a billion dollar scale.  Dallas will be World Class.  Schutze is such a downer.

Voot
Voot

Sorry, Archimedes, the Pulitzer next year is already going to Wick Allison's woody over tearing down I-345, an idea, curiously enough, that gets us all thinking about something other than the Trinity toll road project he pushed the last time he got it up.

They've already put in the writing to justify it - the Pulitzer, not the tear down; no one needs the tear down once you've got the Pulitzer for writing about it - and they've mutually determined that the writing is good.


Why not get the jump on all of them by creating your own prize instead and test-awarding it to yourself?

Lorlee
Lorlee

I am putting in my claim for a share of the prize.  During the first vote back in 97 when I was working with the people in opposition to the $246M Boondoggle as we called it, the piece of mail that I designed showed all those little cars underwater with the fishies swimming by.  Probably still have a copy somewhere to prove up my claim. 

wcvemail
wcvemail

While you're pressing your pants for the prize ceremony, bear in mind that the Corps of Engineers' Friday report will say that it's "technically sound" to build the tollway in the floodway. That's according to the HNTB VP, Chapman, as quoted in the DMN article. And that's going to be good enough for more millions siphoned from the original bond money, millions which will pay for minions to press the better pants of Our Downtown Betters, to use Sharon Boyd's phrase.

James080
James080

If they are going to build the damn thing, and there seems to be a lot of political power behind the proposition, then contract with some European toll road operator to finance and manage the entire fiasco-in-waiting. Let the private sector do for the Trinity Parkway what Wall Street did for Energy Futures Holdings, ie..., lose their shirts on a criminally stupid  idea.


BTW, if they build it, will the Texas Department of Insurance start requiring Dallas County drivers to carry flood insurance on their vehicles?

WylieH
WylieH

[I believe we have a new cadre of leadership developing in Dallas that does have basic decency where public interest, welfare and safety are concerned.]

You've got that right... and, you may want to add three things about this "new cadre of leadership":

1)  they are highly educated;

2)  they are highly motivated and engaged; and

3)  they are extremely skilled in the art of asymmetrical political warfare.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

And the best part is that if we pull out of this terrible idea right now, we've only lost, what, half a billion dollars?  As opposed to the billion we would lose when it all washed away in the first good flood?

HeywoodUBuzzoff
HeywoodUBuzzoff

JimBo -- It is not the idea that building in a flood zone is a bad idea, even if it is.  The trick our politicians/bureaucrats they are trying to pull is to build the road anyway and then later claim 'whoops. We knew it MIGHT happen but did not know it WILL HAPPEN'.  The report is just butt covering for the Corps of Engineers, who will get extra budget monies if the road is built.  Too bad there is no way to get into law that the 'little shiny-faced suck-ups' have to walk the shoulders of the road sans water wings during any rainy weather.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@WylieH Full employment act for lucky and connected consultants and engineers. 


When is the next bond election?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@TheRuddSki  

I'm pretty sure that is a no-go because of the makeup of the soil in the riverbed. Lots and lots of sand pockets under there.

Pylons need to be plunged deep into the ground and the concern is that if an area of sandy soil is breached and flood waters flow down into it, there is a possibility of rushing water undermining the levies themselves.

baker24
baker24

@TheRuddSki Building the road on a viaduct is the only way to construct it without narrowing the river floodplain. Narrowing the floodplain will increase the depth of flood waters to the point where they could much more easily overtop the levees and bring Dallas's Riverwalk right to Commerce and City Hall. The other problem is, the Corps of Engineers will never allow any part of the highway to touch or even impinge on any of the levees, so how exactly would NTTA include any entrances or exits from the river tollway into downtown Dallas? The tollway could ONLY be a bypass to get traffic around Dallas, giving the city not much at all, and forever cutting it off from the river and any recreational facilities. There is also the slight problem of getting said river tollway past the Margaret Hunt Hill "cat's cradle" bridge - do you go under or over? Going under guarantees the road woujld be under water in flood season, and going over may not be an option with all those cables in the way..... 

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@ScottsMerkin  Flood evacuation lanes are for sissies.  Market the toll road as an adventure attraction with variable ratings.  Kind of like ski slopes except the rating changes with the weather.  Green dot bunny slope rating for good weather and multiple black diamonds for flood time.  Think of the cachet of a tee shirt and stickers with a triple black diamond and "I survived the Dallas Trinity Toll Road of Death"  or "Trinity Toll White Water Really Rocks".  The toll rates can vary with the weather like Uber.  Flood and  funeral insurance and entries into the current power ball lottery can be bundled in as well 

deep-sigh
deep-sigh

@ScottsMerkin escape lanes...humpf...they'll tell folks to wear a life jacket while driving that section of the road when it rains.

WylieH
WylieH

@ScottsMerkin That's not how they are doing it... they are using human catapults that will throw us out of the highway/death chute and over the levees, out of harms' way.  That is why the HNTB guy called the emergency evacuation plan "complex."

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

@ScottsMerkin If there is congestion because of a flood the price will be triple the Rush Hour toll charge.

mrsachmo
mrsachmo

@roo_ster  if you can only use them most of the time, they will last longer! WIN! well, except for the pesky current, which might be sort of bad for the road surface. i know! coat it in rubber!


TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@WhiteWhale

I think Toyota makes the best whitewater SUV's.

richardmarx
richardmarx

@Voot Wick Allison is interested in tearing down I-345 for three reasons. One, it would be good publicity for Dallas and, therefore, good for his magazine. Two, it would make downtown more attractive for living, which he supports. Three - and most important -- a teardown is good for real estate interests, which are an important revenue engine for his publishing company. The last reason, and his relationship with benefactor Harlan Crow, was likely the primary driver in supporting the tollroad.

mammym
mammym

@Lorlee I still have my yard sign that says "It's a Bad Deal, Vote NO".  I'm saving it for my great grandchildren to put out in 75 years when they have another vote on the road.

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

@Lorlee  If that's the case, he will need to share that prize with just about anyone who knows not to build anything on bottom-land. My father (who grew up along the Mississippi river) taught me what are the signs that a property floods, and to avoid that property. If he had been alive with this proposal came out, he would have been complaining about more stupidity from politicians. If you have half a brain, you don't build anything that can not be easily and cheaply replaced in a flood zone.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@wcvemail  

All that means is that the Floodway Tollway won't affect the ability of the floodway levees to contain the design storm event.

WylieH
WylieH

@James080 The project is not bondable other than via general obligation debt due to the fact that the Corps has retained the right under its agreement with the NTTA to demand the road's full or partial removal an any time, in the sole discretion of the Corps, if they determine that it is interfering with the operation of the flood control system.

It will have to be funded either with 100% cash up front or with g.o. bonds backed by credit-worthy government agencies such as the NTTA, Dallas County the City of Dallas or the State of Texas (or some combination thereof).

The Federal Government has already refused to fund any portion of it, because they have determined that it is not needed.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@James080  
IRT your last point, either flood insurance or a requirement for swimming lessons. While the market for online swimming lessons will be flooded (heh), such lessons won't make the average Dallas driver into a body-surfing Michael Phelps. OTOH, those whining kayakers will finally get a chance for real white water.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WylieH  

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, chief of engineers for the Corps:  "It was fully recognized by officials that we had Category Three [hurricane] level of protection," Strock said. "As projections of Category Four and Five were made, [officials] began plans to evacuate the city.  "We were just caught by a storm whose intensity exceeded the protection that we had in place."

But determining the level of protection needed versus what Congress and the public are willing to pay for isn't often easy.  Acceptable risks must be weighed, including the statistical likelihood of catastrophic events and the possible consequences if they do occur, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials.

snip! (from a National Geographic News blurb circa 2005)

So here are some good questions for the Corps of Engineers and city officials -

What level of protection do our levees presently afford?  If we don't improve our levees, will downtown flood?  And if we suffer from lack of planning and expenditures to miitigate the "2011 Dought of Record", are we ready for the next "Flood of Record'?

New Orleans learned a bitter lesson when thye decided to divert monies to development infrastructure instead of ensuring they were ready for the next Big One.

kduble
kduble

@everlastingphelps At it's worst, flooding would be likely to deposit a layer of silt and perhaps do a little erosion in some spots. I'm not supportive of the road, but I'm not particularly concerned about flooding. It's upstream rain that would flood the river, not rain in Dallas. They'd know a few days in advance when the water was likely to crest, so the tollway would be closed.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@everlastingphelps  

As they say in the new car dealership biz, sometimes your first loss is your best loss.

Bremarks
Bremarks

@TheCredibleHulk @TheRuddSki  Actually, that is the design plan.  The entire 9-mile stretch will be built on pylons dug deep deep deep into the river bed.  That's the entire engineering plan.  And yes, it's absurd.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@baker24 An even bigger string thingy 14 mile bridge.  It is my understanding that the cables are mainly decorative and it is not a suspension bridge. So a four way cats cradle.  Toss another few hundred million in to a mega dollar project. It is only the tax payer's money so what the heck.  Must be world class  

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@TheRuddSki  

A savvy marketer might want to start considering local editions of popular automobile models akin to the Texas Edition trucks.

Like, say, the Toyota Camry "Dinghy" Edition, or the Hummer "Yacht" seriesManufacturers of sportier models could go with themes like surfboards or speedboats. 


Lorlee
Lorlee

@casiepierce @LorleeSharon was involved in the AA center vote, not this vote.  I believe it was our committee that came up with boondoggle.  


wcvemail
wcvemail

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @wcvemail  
Thanks for pointing that out, as I honestly didn't realize their intent.

That's probably and unfortunately the only time the "technically sound" comment will be described accurately. I believe that at this point, the egos will continue to pursue the Floodway Tollway and seize on that technically limited approval as overall approval from the Corps. Fits on a billboard nicely, easy sound bite.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@WylieH

When the Federal Gov't is the voice of reason, it's time to examine your perspective on the situation.

James080
James080

@WylieH  

That's a shame. This had Goldman Sachs written all over it.

CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch

@holmantx @WylieH More than just Katrina, but NOLA experienced the 'catastrophic events and the possible consequences' when a barge slammed into and broke a levee and when pumps failed. (The 9th Ward was swamp land yet they built cheap houses there anyway. It's still a ghost town in many areas.)


If this road happens, and I'm still holding on to "if", Dallas will learn its own bitter lesson. What are the odds that instead admitting their failure - much of NOLA has - they'll point blame at everyone else?

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk

Yep, that was some fast water, my brother was drunk as hell. Classic case of y'all watch this.

That was 'bout 30 years ago, you can bet there's still a bit of that car left in that crick - but probably a good 100 miles downriver by now.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@TheRuddSki  

I'm not sure I'd try to ford a good sized pothole in a Tercel.

I am, however, extremely impressed that anyone could manage to lose an entire Olds Delta 88. 

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk

They really should offer the "Idiot" model - comes with a life insurance policy for fools who try to cross swollen water.

That would include me, once in a Toyota tercel, once in a Ford pickup (I thought it was named ford for a reason!) And, my brother, who lost an Oldsmobile Delta 88 to a little ol' crick in the Blue Ridge one rainy night,

Next day, they went to the river with a tow truck, and a cop (cops are curious and bored) The car was gone downriver, forever. Cop looks at the still-rushing crick, then at my brother and says "Boy, what the Hell was you thinkin'?

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