With the Trinity Toll Road Dying, It's Time to Get Truthful About Flood Control

Categories: Schutze

Pinocchio.jpg
Wikipedia
Pinnochio designed the toll road, sure, but think about this: Pinnochio also designed the flood control project.
I have a piece in the paper this week about D Magazine publisher Wick Allison and his turn-around on the Trinity River toll road -- now he's against it -- for which I genuinely admire him. I have been around people his age in the past, and my impression is that it's often very difficult for them to accept new ideas.

He defies that stereotype, and for that he is a credit to his generation. It wasn't the greatest generation, but, you know, maybe it was OK after all.

See also: How D Magazine's Wick Allison Changed His Mind on the Trinity Parkway

But for all of this to turn into a true South African style truth and reconciliation on the Trinity River project, we would still have to dig deeper into the history and genesis of the project. Allison's opposition to it now is based mainly on his perception -- a correct one, I believe -- that it's a lousy real estate play. The people who have wanted it done all this time believed a major dedicated roadway was the key to enabling redevelopment of the land along the river downtown.

That's a very mid-century concept based on antique notions about what makes a modern downtown tick. In my interview with him, Allison points to evidence all around us in downtown Dallas that big freeways kill urban development rather than make it happen. His vision of a whole new order of downtown development is based on making the big freeways go away, not building a new one.

That's all well and good. I think he's right. More to the point, some very credible and important experts are coming to the same view, including architect Bob Meckfessell, a major supporter of the toll road in the past. But the problems with the Trinity River project go way deeper than its shortcomings as a real estate play.

Remember that this entire multi-billion-dollar project to rebuild the river's floodway through downtown was originally pitched to voters as a flood control project. An immensely important flood control project. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers engineering studies show that a levee failure during a major flood on the Trinity River in downtown Dallas would produce devastation far outstripping what Katrina did to New Orleans in 2005.

Our very first reporting on the project here at the Observer in 1998 was based on expert sources who said the flood control plan itself, especially the design of new levees, was wrong and flew in the face of national flood safety policy, serving mainly to enable the building of this road we now agree we don't want or need.

But don't take it from us. Two years after that first story was published, the George W. Bush White House agreed with us and took the Trinity River project out of the presidential budget. Bush's director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., committed his findings to a letter in which he described three fundamental flaws in the plan: 1) a failure to look at a simpler, much cheaper fix that would have provided far superior flood protection to downtown Dallas; 2) a fiddling of the corps' own rules and regulations for determining the economic benefits of the program; and 3) a failure to look at ways to solve downstream flooding, especially in the heavily polluted area of Cadillac Heights, without building new levees.

Since 1994 federal flood control policy has been based on research showing that new levees drive and increase flood devastation rather than reducing it. It's a principle that may seem counter-intuitive at first. Why not just build more walls and push the water away from us? Basically it has to do with piling up more and more water instead of letting it spread out and soak into the ground. A ton of research in the early 1990s showed that in the end you can't beat Mother Nature.

Let's go back to looking at the Trinity River project as a simple real estate play, which is how it started. Now we are starting to agree that it was a dumb real state play. But we also need to recognize that it was a dishonest real estate play built on deliberate misrepresentations to the public.

This idea came from people who were not very smart. And they were dishonest. And they are the ones who drove the flood control aspects of the project. Think about it. Forget the real estate play. A bad real estate play can't kill you, but a bad flood control project can.

There are other powerful lessons in this project, one of them being that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration can be counted on for nothing -- nothing -- in terms of providing for long-range public safety. And it's not their fault.

The powers-that-be in Dallas repeatedly took the North Texas congressional delegation by the ear and led it squealing back to the trough whenever federal money and legal authority were needed to paper over the plan's dramatic cracks and flaws. When the lawmakers get involved, the administrators take a powder. That's part of the underlying story here.

The thing we need to focus on now is flood control on the river. This has been a bogus dangerous flood control plan from the beginning. Taking apart the toll road is only the beginning. We have to get back to bare dirt.

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60 comments
TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Blow the levees, and that will improve the schools. It worked in New Orleans.

dfw_maverick
dfw_maverick

I don't understand what the real estate play was regarding the freeway/tollway.  Where were they going to develop real estate that would profit due to the tollway?

MikeO
MikeO

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't it take rain to have a flood?

We don't really need to worry about this anymore, right?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

"I have been around people his age in the past...."

Wick's age? Your age? 

And shouldn't you know enough at your age to give up this tired and tiresome stereotype? Like all those worn-out ideas that folks cling to, it's interfering with your ability to think clearly. And without clear thought all you have left is a knack for clever writing.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

Good luck on that "back to bare dirt" idea. Most of your neighbors seem to prefer paved areas.

Btw, I had no idea that the Trinity River was the Texas equivalent of the mighty Mississippi. Maybe that great plan to make it navigable all the way to the Gulf was really a great idea after all.Then, we could build the Trinity Toll Road all the way to Houston.

roo_ster
roo_ster

"Since 1994 federal flood control policy has been based on research showing that new levees drive and increase flood devastation rather than reducing it."

Dallas downtown regularly got flooded until they went medieval on the Trinity, moved it a ways, and erected levees.  Since then?  Not so much flooding.  Success.


Now, more rural areas elsewhere might be more likely to take it in the face, but the $$$ lost are much less.  As a taxpayer, I would rather pay to replace Farmer John's home, barn, and a year's crop revenues than half of downtown Dallas.

Voot
Voot

While it was only natural for the D folks to cite your piece in their worship service, someone really ought to question a premise you raised.


Let's say that ordinary guy Voot, who may or may not be of Wick's generation, changes his mind on the Trinity thing. Well, good for me; I'm enlightened.


Now let's also imagine that not-ordinary guy Toov, one of the pillars of shaping Dallas public opinion, spends a lot of time and press getting others to vote for the thing and all the obligated money to do it. The thing passes, and even if his wasn't the key voice, he helped push it over the line, and now Dallas is obligated for all that money, money that doesn't stay homeless for very long. Later on, after the money's a done deal, Toov changes his thinking and says, "Never mind." Isn't Toov enlightened?


What would impress me more is if Toov, having made some cash over just getting people to read his support of it in the first place even before he helped obligate Dallas for the cost of the project, instead said something like, "Look, I was wrong, and I also led other people into making my wrong decision as well, a decision that's cost Dallas a lot of money. To make up for it, I'm going to cash out a chunk of my retirement portfolio and donate it to the City of Dallas to cover those obligations."


And of course: what happens when he convinces others to tear down I-345, then changes his mind about that?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

the 1st two paragraphs are a hoot.

Downtown, any Central Business District, serves as the focus of finance (commerce), government (city, county, state, federal) and tourism (hotels).  If you diminish or remove ingress/egress (access) to it, its function will diminish and it will have to be repurposed. From a real estate standpoint, that is extremely risky.  The reason I-345 exists is to facilitate access to the most densely populated area of the City (by far).  In effect, you are fiddling with the end result of a real estate play the freeway system helped create and now maintains. 

The only question is, can the emerging residential real estate play downtown survive without the intense engine of commerce, government and tourism which created the demand for it?  Do not assume that no matter what we do to it, the engine will always hum along.

There are 254 counties in Texas.  There is a corresponding 254 county courthouses.  All but one were put to the torch at least once.  Why? Most were burned to destroy records or get them moved to another town in the county because all roads lead to the county courthouse.  The county seat is the center of commerce.  Access is crucial to downtown. 

In real estate parlance, I strongly suggest we not fiddle with the access to it.  It may produce unintended consequences.

If Dallas lost downtown, as presently constituted, it would lose its soul.  It would be just another residential district.  And a vertical one at that.  With all the personality of a plastic bag.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Warehouse/industrial land along east levee becomes high rise Turtle Creek mixed use... an OK idea, but old guard thinks it will need private ingress and egress, not to mention Chinese wall,

A la Perot Victory, to shield hoity toities from grungy city.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@MikeO Severe drought = dirt hardening like concrete. Rain = water running off all that concrete-dirt. Run off goes directly into the gutters and creeks, which flow into the river. Very fast, because it's not soaking into the ground, hence the term "flash flood". Even a few inches of rain for your very thirsty St Augustine yard can mean torrents downriver. Have you been in Texas long?

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

You're old!

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel  

I do believe that one got smooth past you, old boy.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@roo_ster  fair enough, but the new levees in this plan protect low value industrial land that would have been way cheaper to buy out while actually putting downtown at greater risk by constricting the river.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx  

I'm trying to understand the many contradictions in what you wrote.

First, if you are referring to the Trinity Parkway (the Tollroad to which Jim refers) in the statement "I strongly suggest we not fiddle with the access to [the CBD]", it makes zero sense. The planned route of the Trinity Parkway goes south of and around the CBD, actually circumventing the current access to the CBD from Stemmons.

Second, I-345 has nothing to do with the Trinity Parkway or flood control (the point of the article BTW), even though Michael Morris and Vonciel Hill attempt to link building the Trinity Parkway with addressing I-345. While I see the link of the two road projects as a red herring, any link of I-345 remaining and the issue of flood control is preposterous.

Last, you claim "Access is crucial to downtown", which of course is a duh, and also say "That elevated freeway [I-345] affords GREAT access from and to Deep Ellum"...but then you later refer to the "165,000 daily drivers who depend upon that elevated freeway to avoid the downtown crowd". so which is it, does I-345 provide "access" to the CBD for those traveling on it, or is it just a freeway to "avoid the downtown"? The former says it is important to the CBD viability, the latter says it can go away and the CBD wouldn't notice it.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@holmantx  "The reason I-345 exists is to facilitate access to the most densely populated area of the City (by far)."

I guess I'm not sue what "most densely populated area of" Dallas you are talking about.  It can't possibly be downtown.


Also, I wonder why Boston is such a ghost town all the time, I understand that it's impossible to even own a car there....

WylieH
WylieH

@holmantx Tracing the city limits of Dallas, one finds 10 limited access highways converging on downtown, more than almost any other city in the world... how many highways would you propose? 

At some point, the spokes on the wagon wheel get spaced so close together than you end up with a bunch of narrow slices of pie withe most of the land consumed by the spokes and undesirable frontage along the spokes.

lakewoodhobo
lakewoodhobo

@holmantx  What an awful argument. What gives a place its soul is the people who live there, and Downtown Dallas lost that decades ago when all the residents were driven out - the mansions of Ross Ave, the Mexican families of Little Mexico, the Jewish community south of downtown. We can have all of that back if we fix the mistakes of the past.


To say that downtown can have a soul with nobody living there is just bizarre.


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@holmantx  all good points if this were 1975.

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

@JimSX I wonder if the Trinity "Parkway" would have been in place by now if the 1998 bond package was sold as the real estate investment that it was. Instead, it was sold as a lie.

MikeO
MikeO

Have you a sense of humor?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantx @bmarvel  was under the impression that Jim was saying that he's known a lot of geezers in his day. Indeed, some of his best friends are geezers. But that geezers as a class or category or whatever are resistant to changing our minds or taking in and understanding new ideas. Something like that.

So it comes as bittersweet relief to learn that I've completely misunderstood. One more proof that we oldsters are just completely clueless.  

 Since I'm so dense and doddering, holman --not at all a credit to my own generation -- would you explain to me what I missed? Kind of in  the spirit of some bright young sprout helping an old man cross the street?.

roo_ster
roo_ster

@JimSX  

Well I'll be dipped in apple butter.


The buy out, given that your figures figure out that way, sounds like the way to go.  

And by "buy out" I do NOT mean "Gov't then sells to connected folks to build riverside condos and hipster cafes on."  So that the taxpayers eventually pay for both the buy out AND the levees to protect the riverside condos after they agitate for flood protection.  **** that noise.

More like "Convert to park land or something that won't be too bothered by getting flooded every once in a while."

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx"The former says it is important to the CBD viability, the latter says it can go away and the CBD wouldn't notice it."  Only to someone with very small circular thinking, in which every point you make you've already made and you always end up at the same place.

When I'm commuting, if I leave early enough or late enough (depending on heading home or work), 345 makes a great bypass to get around downtown traffic.  If I'm heading into Deep Ellum or downtown for dinner, lunch or just to kill some time, 345 makes a great access route from my home.  Take 175 up out of PG and drop off 345 on the exit of my choice.

You usually make fine arguments, and I enjoy the banter between you and holman immensely, but this time, your desire to paint him in the wrong stunted your thinking to the point you could probably sue your brain for non-support and win.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx  

Well keep trying.  

Maybe if I give the same moronic link you provided above to the last guy as a hint:

www.dart.org


holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@casiepierce @holmantx  

The day time workforce - 1 office worker per 300 sq.ft. in hi-rises. Millions of square feet.

ghkyluhhje
ghkyluhhje

@casiepierce Actually, I manage market research projects all over the US. One of my primary markets is Boston, and everyone I've met in Boston has a car. You have to. It's impossible to get around without it. Also, Boston has tons of freeways. Check it out. Although, it's clear you're a little geographically challenged.

ghkyluhhje
ghkyluhhje

@WylieH "At some point, the spokes on the wagon wheel get spaced so close together than you end up with a bunch of narrow slices of pie withe most of the land consumed by the spokes and undesirable frontage along the spokes."


We're not even close to that yet. There's only one reason those freeways ended up there: They were needed. You get rid of the infrastructure, and the jobs will follow that pattern, along with the population. I mean, I suppose we could become like one of those small towns with one stoplight. But I prefer a metroplex with a population above 200.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@WylieH @holmantx  

I'm on I-345 every day.  Yesterday it was bumper-to-bumper.  Several thousand people out there on the elevated freeway link.  I looked down at Elm, Main and Commerce and they were generally free of traffic, the few cars passing freely from and to Deep Ellum.  That elevated freeway affords GREAT access from and to Deep Ellum.  It is the reason why it was built.

Grade-level main thoroughfares with traffic lights all have calculated maximum carrying capacity before they gridlock.

If we drop the crowd above onto those roads, we will gridlock the east side of downtown and some percentage of the daytime workforce who tenant the buildings will leave.  If you don't have to be downtown, you won't.  It's only logical.  

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@lakewoodhobo So.... all we gotta do to get Dallas its groove back is tear out Victory and everything west of the west end, tear out I 30, I 45 and US 175, do away with all the commercial engines that have sprung up along 35E, move all of the poor, exploited Mexican families out of the grove and back to Little Mexico, and somehow convince the Jewish community to give up the nice neighborhoods and synagogues they've built in the northern burbs and move back to south Dallas?

Good luck with that.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@lakewoodhobo  

Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.  E. B. White (1899–1985), U.S. author, editor. “Here is New York,” in Holiday (Indianapolis, April 1949)

ghkyluhhje
ghkyluhhje

@JimSX "all good points if this were 1975"-you should listen to your 1975 self. It was smarter.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX @holmantx  

I just heard a news woman on the radio at the top of the hour gayly announce - Victory Park to begin redevelopment today!

Oh yeah?  

What happened to the first stab at it?

Perot missed the market.  He wanted an outcome and talked himself into a reality that did not exist.

Knock down a freeway if you want but don't screw it up downtown.

otherwise we'll just have to put it right back up. (ha!)

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

RTGolden1

Of course.

I get a kick out of folks who insult NASCAR, because it goes in circles.

The oldest sports in the Olympics go in circles, but NASCAR is the most hi-tech most expensive, most dangerous, highest-speed sport that goes in a circle ever invented, other than Indy cars.

And, a good chunk of fans are women.

I chalk it up to bigotry against southerners. Which is of course ok. NASCAR fans don't give a shit anyway.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@TheRuddSki Kyle or Kurt.  They are, after all, NASCAR bad boys, and thus responsible for all sorts of redneckery.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantx @bmarvelThanks, holman. Don't know what I would do without you. While you're up would you mind warming my water bottle?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @holmantx  

Faux third-person self-deprecating humor to make a hidden point. Poke a little fun by standing outside the fish bowl, claiming he is not "one of them" fishes. 

But it can be dangerous.  A cadre of the perpetually offended are always out there ready to seize the the opportunity to be offended.  In you stepped and proved the point he never meant in the first place.  It was just a vehicle.

"and for that he is a credit to his generation. It wasn't the greatest generation, but, you know, maybe it was OK after all." - priceless.

Worked for me.

casiepierce
casiepierce

@roo_ster It wasn't an option because the powers-that-be who sold us the entire bond package said it wasn't. Not because it wasn't a viable option, but because they didn't want to do it. There were many protests about not buying out Cadillac Heights and opting instead to wall those people in with all that toxic lead. 

roo_ster
roo_ster

No i was not.

So jim is full of baloney regarding the buyout?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx  

Now see, you said you would try harder then you fall right back into your intentionally obtuse retorts.  

No wonder you and the Buck Man don't tangle.

I'd crash this website.

after the hapless moderator pulling the weekend duty commits suicide.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

to paraphrase your response, "uh, gee whiz, I can't explain the clear contradictions you pointed out either..."

well done!

"moronic link". that's funny of you, calling the link to the Boston transit site "moronic".

on second thought, not really funny, sad.

yeah, it's sad...you're so very sad. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@ghkyluhhje

I manage market research projects all over the US. One of my primary markets is Boston, and everyone I've met in Boston has a car. You have to. It's impossible to get around without it.

clearly you are NOT very good at "market research". or knowing much about Boston, it's easy to not own a car.

here, let me help you with that "market research" aspect...

http://www.mbta.com/

ghkyluhhje
ghkyluhhje

@Oxtail "So what you're saying is that all the people hang out up on the freeway and nobody is in downtown."-No, what he is saying is that I-345 commuters have places to go (not Deep Ellum), and freeways allow for travel by "way" of a road "free" of stoplights that impede that traffic. Perhaps you don't understand the concept of a backed-up toilet.

hwy77
hwy77

@LakeWWWooder @roo_ster@Oxtail@holmantx@WylieH Texas Blue Cross/Shield moved to Richardson, but it also was bought out by Illinois Blue Cross/Shield about 15 years ago. So there really is no Texas Blue Cross/Shield anymore, other than the brand. Everything changes, or dies, and that applies to downtown Dallas.

roo_ster
roo_ster

@Oxtail @holmantx@WylieH  

 "To me I would rather have people complaining about traffic in downtown Dallas because it's so populated and vibrant rather than hearing bitching about bumper-to-bumper up on I-345 every time someone gets a flat tire."

Yeah, that is nucking futs.

Cut that or any of the other arteries, and you will get

1st:  Hell-like congestion

2nd: Companies moving out of downtown

3rd: Even fewer folks moving to or visiting downtown Dallas because the traffic is off the scale awful.

4th: A bunch of pinheads wondering, "Why does downtown Dallas suck, when it looked on the upswing in the 2010s?"

I have walked all over downtown and under those overpasses.  They do not impede movement cross-wise.

You want to see a road that impedes cross-wise movement?  Look at I635 across the top end of Dallas.  Save for the few major streets, it is impenetrable.   If only it were as "impenetrable" as I345.


RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Oxtail @holmantx@WylieHAll those people will still be going through downtown, not to  downtown.  I'm one of them.  Don't get me wrong, I like downtown, for lunch.  But I live south of it, and work north of it.  It is not my destination.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@holmantx You're exactly right.  I'm one of those commuters from the southern sector.  I come up out of PG every day to go to work.  Used to take 175/345 to Woodall rodgers and then up 35 to my exit.  Then I dropped to surface streets to avoid the bumper to bumper.

Thing is, if anything happens on Woodall or 345 or even 30, my little surface street paradise turned into Freeway traffic with poorly timed, out of sequence lights and random trains to screw it up.

Since my route took me through DE on my way up to the office, I saw first-hand what is going to happen when/if they tear out 345.  Gone will be the harrowing Sharrow lanes.  Main, Commerce, and Elm will be the Daily 500 mixed with a Ranchero Rodeo.  Any cyclist dense enough to drop a wheel off the sidewalk will become another X on a Dallas street.

I take the train now, as Dallas can usually be counted on to follow the stupid path more often than the efficient one.

Oxtail
Oxtail

@holmantx @WylieH  "Several thousand people out there on the elevated freeway link.  I looked down at Elm, Main and Commerce and they were generally free of traffic..."


So what you're saying is that all the people hang out up on the freeway and nobody is in downtown. I think you've just made the point for the proponents of tearing down I-345. I mean if several thousand people up there enjoy sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, there is really no reason for people to be living in downtown, spending money and reinvesting in the area. Consequently that would not offer any incentives for any developer to build taxable new buildings or residential complexes. 


To me I would rather have people complaining about traffic in downtown Dallas because it's so populated and vibrant rather than hearing bitching about bumper-to-bumper up on I-345 every time someone gets a flat tire. There are more options for traffic to flow in and out of the streets of downtown than there is on one 2 mile stretch of freeway with one exit.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@roo_ster @holmantx @WylieH  

I think we may be dealing with thinly masked Luddites invoking modernity to get what they want.

Might want to poll those 165,000 daily drivers who depend upon that elevated freeway to avoid the downtown crowd in the first place.  

And the big corps who give their employees an hour for lunch may take their people elsewhere.

Either that or tell them to bring a sack lunch.

they can eat it while waiting to get in or out of downtown.

roo_ster
roo_ster

@holmantx @WylieH 

But you don;t understand!  All those cars will magically disappear instead of hitting ground-level streets.  Because our intentions are so, so pure.

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