Looks Like Nearly Everybody Is Against the Trinity Toll Road Now. Does that Matter?

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Please refer to above diagram for assistance with metaphors in this item

Reaching for a badly mixed metaphor, I guess I would say those of us personally involved for a long time on the opposition side of the Trinity roll road issue feel right now like we're breathless flies on the wall with our fingers crossed and our dukes up (flies have three sets of extremities, I think).

On the one hand, we never thought we would see this much informed opinion against it. On the other hand, we know how little this project has to do with informed opinion.

We have learned a grudging respect for the advocates. Opinion against them, especially smart opinion, is just another barricade to blast their way through on their way to a goal they have sought for a half century.

May 4, The Dallas Morning News published a letter-to-the-editor from prominent Dallas architect Robert Meckfessel renouncing the plan. An op-ed piece in the paper followed on June 1 from architect Larry Good, saying he, too, was jumping ship. Both Good and Meckfessel had been forceful voices in defense of building a highway along the river near downtown in 2007 when the plan was temporarily threatened by a referendum.

In announcing his own change of mind and heart, Good's tone was almost contrite: "I have changed my mind," he wrote, "and now confess publicly my opposition to building this highway."

Then I realized that D Magazine publisher Wick Allison also had turned against the road. I went to see him, because I have always liked Allison and worried he might have suffered some kind of trauma. What I got instead was a really smart lecture on why Dallas needs a whole new vision of the role of roads in is future.

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

On June 12, Ralph Hawkins, chairman of HKS Architects and incoming chairman of the Dallas Regional Chamber (of commerce), joined former Trammell Crow Company (huge real estate) chief executive Don Williams in a Morning News op-ed piece denouncing the plan to build a high-speed limited access multi-lane toll road on the banks of the river between downtown and Oak Cliff. The day that one ran, I was on my way up to the Ozarks for a solo canoe trip, pulling into a motel the evening before I was to launch. My cell phone rang, and I saw that it was former City Council member Angela Hunt.

She asked if I had seen the Hawkins/Williams piece, and I said I had. Funny conversation, her back in Dallas, me on the motel tarmac overlooking green foothills, lots of excited jabber punctuated by awkward silence. The thing is, Hunt, more than I, has been to this hog auction before. She's the one who put together the 2007 referendum. Some of the very people coming out against it now called her a liar, a fool and worse for revealing flaws in the design, flaws they now recognize and base their new positions on.

I don't remember that either one of us was interested in that aspect -- the head-snapping turnarounds -- when we talked last June. So what? People change their minds. They see old facts in a new light. It's called debate in a free society. What, we don't want people to change their minds? We've never done it?

But Hunt has been through another deeper and scarier aspect of this whole saga -- the breath-taking reach, power, ferocious determination and stubborn invisibility of whoever it is. Whoever it is. That's our name for them, her and me. We should shorten it. We could call them Whotiz.

In 2007 Hunt was able to line up academic experts in other parts of the country who were willing at first to talk about the sheer insanity of barricading the river with a freeway at a time when cities around the world are spending billions to undo just this kind of mistake made 30 and 40 years ago in their own downtowns. She even got so she knew the drill: Talk to expert. Persuade expert to explain publicly why it's a bad idea. Expert says no sweat, of course it's a bad idea. I'll be there with bells on.

Wait a week. Expert calls back. No can do. Too busy at this time. The lesson eventually was this: Sure, they're academics, and we think of academics as being intellectually independent. But these are academics in the fields of engineering and civil design, and those are client-based fields, eventually. If Professor X isn't worried about pissing off Dallas or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, talk to the chairman of his department. He or she is worried.

Whotiz sees it coming. They have their own drill. They reach out and make sure the message is received. Those of us opposed to the project have had to imagine what that message must be, but, based on many identical outcomes over many years, we guess it's something like this: You come to Dallas and talk bad about this project, forget about ever working on any project that involves Texas or federal money.

Far from dismissing the real perils people face in speaking out against the Trinity Toll Road, I know all too well how scary it can be for them. If you don't believe me, take a look at the op-ed piece in the daily paper today: a passel more architects are calling for the plan to be abandoned, but only after they offer a cringing profession of loyalty to all things Dallas. The tone will put you in mind of a puppy curled on the floor with its tail between its legs, head twisted up with that corner-eyed look that means "please don't-beat me too terrible bad."

On the ground here in Dallas the principal puppy-beaters working for Whotiz have been the North Central Texas Council of Governments, a federally sponsored planning agency supposedly set up to ensure rational use of federal transportation funds, long ago co-opted by the people whose real estate schemes depend on long-range planning for use of federal money. In 2007 and today, "The Cog," as it is called, has been the political assault force for the Toll road.

Earlier this month Brandon Formby and Rudy Bush at the Morning News reported that The Cog was working on a plan to put together piecemeal funding for a preliminary segment of the toll road. It would be a means of implanting the first piece of the road in the body of the river. That one segment might be enough to forestall or cut off other uses, mainly recreational, that might conflict or at least compete with the road. That first segment also would serve as a financial/political commitment that could be counted on to metastasize later.

The segmental approach means that, far from giving up, Whotiz sees the consensus gathering against it and is determined to head it off at the pass. The piece-at-a-time plan is all the proof anybody should need that Whotiz will push this plan forward in spite of and in defiance of any rising tide of public opinion against it.

They're going to tell you that the people of Dallas have voted for their road, twice, by the way, and they will be telling the truth. I can go on and on here about the lies told in those elections, but I guess that's what people who lose elections always say. In 1998 and in 2007, they won, and they have that going for them.

But think back for a moment also to the people who have come out against the road in recent months. All of the things I said above about the incredible pressure brought to bear on critics in the past applies to them, and maybe more so.

These people are right here, not in Boston or Stanford, and they need clients, bankers and advertisers right here. It takes real courage -- no, I mean it, real courage -- for people in their positions to say what they are saying now.

So here's the thinking among us flies on the wall. First of all, hurrah. Hurrah for the courage. But secondly, do they truly know what they're getting themselves in for? Do they know hard Whotiz is going to come back on them? Has it started already?

Everybody in this picture is over 21. Everybody should know. But experience has taught us flies that they don't always know. That's why we have our fingers crossed and our dukes up at the same time. Forgive us for horrible metaphors, but we've got 2,000 of our eyes focused on the growing consensus and the other 2,000 looking out for that damned swatter. I was about to say our hind fly legs are ready to jump and dancing a jig, but that might stretch the metaphor too far.

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I would support the Trinity project, with this proviso: City Council offices and chambers, offices of all proponents, boosters, contractors, etc be the first structures built on the proposed park land.


Yes the punishing has begun.  Good, Fulton and Farrell is the lead architect on the Cienda Partners project at the old Oak Farms Dairy.  Michael Morris has announced that the Jefferson Street bridge will be rebuilt as a 4-story connector from I-35.  Such an imposing ugly behemoth blocking the skyline will make the Oak Farms property undesirable if completed and cost Good a sizably large project.  


"...Everybody Is Against [it]..Does that Matter?"

Actually, the mayor an city council are not against the Trinity Toll Road. So the answer to the question is: as long as the project has City of Dallas support, the opposition does not matter.

There are three things that can get the toll road canceled.

1. Corps of Engineers refuses to grant the permits

2. Money cannot be arranged (this is the most likely cause of its demise)

3. The City of Dallas (mayor AND city council) decides to oppose it. Could happen if major political changes occur and/or enough time passes.

I support the project. Dallas is better off with the toll road and the park. Just like Lincoln Park in Chicago is a nice park with the North Shore Parkway running through it, or Balboa Park in San Diego is a nice park with a freeway, or Buffalo Bayou in Houston is nice with both Allen Parkway and the quasi-freeway Memorial Drive along it. Most new development will occur on the Oak Cliff side, which will not notice the toll road since the road is on the other side of the river from Oak Cliff. We don't need the entire floodway to be a park, especially north of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.


I've known most of the architects cited in your article for going on 30 years and not one of them is a bit courageous when it comes to pissing off a prospective client. More likely they've been cut out of the deal they believed they were going to score when they were telling everyone that putting a road in the river was a good idea. Remember the eyewash that someone (I'm thinking it was someone in Larry Good's shop) dashed off and got printed in the DMN so Ron Kirk could have a prop to sell the idea of a town lake to voters? That's not courage and they damned sure haven't changed their minds. It was a stupid idea from day one and every one of the knew it all along.


Of course, if they do build this thing, it forever cut off the main part of Dallas (east of the river) from direct access to the river and any possible amenities that might, as an afterthought, be put in next to the toll road. I had thought, well, the folks in West Dallas will be able to get to the river from their side, but now I see there's a new plan for extensive development on the west levee as well. As you say, someone wants this in the worst way, and that is exactly how Dallas will get this. As often happens, Ft. Worth did it the right way and will end up with all the things Dallas will end up throwing away if this road is built.


[They're going to tell you that the people of Dallas have voted for their road, twice, by the way, and they will be telling the truth.]

Actually, that's not really the truth.  The first election had something different (a "parkway") tucked into the same line item with highly sought after recreational amenities and flood control.  If you wanted a park and/or wanted not to die in a flood, a gentle "parkway" had to come along, whether you wanted it or not (and many, many people didn't want it).  If this had been a desirable element, even way back then, they would have pitched it as a stand alone deal.  But a review of newspaper accounts at the time suggest that it wasn't highly desired, and that is why it had to be jammed in with more popular items.


After seeing the Oak Cliff Gateway Plans last week whereas a large segment of the West bank of the Trinity levee is being designated for highrises. That plan that was presented last week to a civic group was 360 degrees opposite of what was presented to residents and smaller neighborhood groups, as they will tell you. The gasps in the crowd were quite apparent when the map was explained. Voices continued to echo throughout the room of residents, neighborhoods,and others about being scammed and lied to by City Staff. The connection between the Gateway Plan and this portion of the toll road is obvious. Both sides of the river are being planned as we sit here, to become a developers dream....and perhaps even some at Dallas City Hall.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

"So here's the thinking among us flies on the wall. First of all, hurrah. Hurrah for the courage. But secondly, do they truly know what they're getting themselves in for? Do they know hard Whotiz is going to come back on them? Has it started already?"

Admittedly, I know very little about the Toll/Floodway plan, except that it doesn't seem to be an ideal spot for a road.  I certainly know less than the flies on the wall do.

I do know something about changing plans midstream, however.  It's risky and usually only worth taking under extreme circumstances.  In the military, plans usually change upon contact with the enemy, probably since the enemy was not privy to the plan, they rarely seem to play the part they've been assigned.  In life, plans change usually right after I've royally effed something up.  And with big infrastructure projects plans, and agreement to plans, changes mostly because either someone got unelected over it or the money has changed.

As far as I know, nobody has even had a smudge of tarnish on their name for backing the Riparian Roadway, so it must be the money that is changing people's minds.  Either the money changed its mind, or different, bigger money is buying in to the game, with a different deck of cards in store for the river (drilling, soccer playing, or, knowing Dallas, that's the part of downtown they'll try to actually build low-income housing to smooth the ruffled feathers at HUD).

Know what else happened just prior to all the mid-stream seat-swapping?  Zebra mollusk invasion began.  Won't be long before those flying asian carp follow along.  Who want's to be zipping up the tollroad, minding your own business and have an 8-pound carp splatter on your windshield?


Either there's been some type of major change in the geology and physical science involved with the river, like in those hurtling time lapse sequences of Eons Passing we see in the movies, or the proponents-now-opponents have skillfully managed to game everybody else by getting the public to vote a huge chunk of honey into liquid existence, directing their crony flies toward lapping it all up (see diagram), then piously exclaiming, "Shoo, fly, don't bother me. We're all now wonderfully against it after we were influentially for it." Wick Allison and his adorably sycophantic minions over at D could make a traveling dancing musical out of their current breathless, hypocritical gushing about all the cool kids now being against it.

But, Jim, this really is old news. Have you heard about the new enormously expensive cool thing to be for before being against it? Tearing down I-345. All the cool kids are for it. See also gaming, flies, honey, sycophants, minions, traveling musical, and hypocrisy, above.


@amarkscpa1 I'm looking for a group willing to tear down I-45 (all of it) for a more walkable Texas.

JimSX topcommenter

@WylieH Excellent point. I am suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Generosity.

JimSX topcommenter


Think I saw that graphic at Halff Engineering 10 years ago before they put under the table for the referendum. Interesting that it's out again.

Montemalone topcommenter

@RTGolden1 Probably just get some leftover Katrina trailers and put those houseboat things under'em and call it Seattle on the River.


In fairness, it was cool in the 90's to be for the Trinity River development because back then it was pitched as a mult-iuse, multi-park, multi-lake, etc. type development not unlike Houston's Allen Parkway or Austin's Town Lake.

The graphics back then (to get the votes and the money), illustrated this,* and it wasn't until the backers started claiming "oh, we really meant to put down a big-ass toll road all along" that Jim beat the drum against the whole deal (read DO from '02 on).

So the cool kids who supported the original design are many of the same cool kids who support the final teardown of the I-345 because they have the same objective: pulling the city together and making downtown more desirable to visit.

*the graphics really did show people on horseback, crossing low-speed parkways.


@JimSX Well that's VERY interesting....after the gasps and the outcry in the room, the staffer got all red and started quivering saying "we've been at work on this since (I could have sworn she said something about late 1990's, but let's go with 2005) Whatever it was, I was dumbfounded and didn't think quick enough for a clarification of her statement. The fat pink wedge shape starts in Oak Cliff and extends to the East bank. A "riviera" vision perhaps being touted?


@fred.garvin.mp.713 I was a one of the spokesmen in 1997 -- and I categorically called it a road project back then -- way before 02.  The one piece of mail we put out showed a car and driver under water with bubbles and fishes.  There has never been any question from the beginning that this was a road project.  Even given our meager resources in 1997,we won the early vote -- usually a predictor of final victory.  Ah, not to be because of the cash dump on election day.  I will leave you to ponder where.

I remember debating then Mayor Kirk on KERA and drawing for him the analogy of dropping rocks into a pail of water and how a road was a bad idea.  He had the audacity to try and compare it to Rock Creek Parkway in DC -- not knowing that I had lived on that very Parkway.

It was a smoke and mirrors from the beginning -- and the sad part is that the $246M that was voted for this Boondoggle has been frittered away.  And the City went to Court to say they could spend the money however they chose -- didn't have to match with the numbers they put on the ballot.  

Whotiz is Michael Morris and the NTCOG and the people who thought up this Boondoggle are Halff and Associates who would stand there and lie at the debates.


@fred.garvin.mp.713 Some of the DMN columns at the time were truly amazing.  One columnist, in particular, went on at length about how this was going to be Dallas' version of the San Antonio Riverwalk.

JimSX topcommenter

@dallasdrilling.wordpress.com @JimSX

Never got a copy. I was in  their conference room while ten of them tried to tell me I was wrong about some shit I can't remember now. I saw these great big graphics on the walls all around the room, like turtle creek on steroids. The old man, Halff, was in the room. I asked what they were, and some guy said, "That's what the Trinity River industrlal district will look like." The old man, who was smarter, said, "Oh, these are just concepts, they don't mean anything."

Years before that, before the Dallas Institute signed on as a shill for the project, the Institute held one of their goofy design day-dream events where they had people draw pictures of what could be done with the river. One was a big long-ass thing up on the wall showing the levees covered with buildings.

The late Trammell Crow, who was probably a generous supporter of the Institute, came to a party and saw the thing with the buildings on the levees and went ape-shit, or so I was told. He was all red in the face, saying, "Whose is this? Who drew this?" He said something to the effect of, "Those are my levees," and said he had plans for them, and nobody else should be drawing plans like that. 

This thing has a daddy or daddies. It was not a virgin birth.


@Lorlee  Kirk was a slithering snake and who every wrote the ballot language should have been tarred and feathered.  

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