Michael Morris Is the King of DFW Politics, and the King Says the Highways Stay

Categories: Schutze

coach2.jpg
Wikipedia
Michael Morris arrives at City Hall to deliver his annual address, "Musings and Meditations on How We Shall Get About."

Michael Morris, the Dallas Forth Worth area's No. 1 regional transportation planner, guru and playuh, was back in the news over the weekend and today for his decree that knocking down an overhead freeway in Dallas ain't gonna happen, no matter what the hippie wingdings think (not his precise words).

Morris, director of Transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments ('splain later), gave The Dallas Morning News a kind of airy wave-of-the-riding-crop quote: "There's not much our office is going to be able to do to help them and there's not much [the state highway department] will be able to do," he said of various groups studying demolition of I-345 on the east end of downtown.

The plan, to take down a rickety elevated highway and turn it into a boulevard, comes straight out of all the "new urbanism" thinking about downtowns and how to make them cool. The basic reasoning is that if you can't make downtown cool -- an inviting, walkable place to live and work -- you might as well make it go away, because otherwise the only thing downtown does is suck.

Morris would never admit it, but he comes straight out of the late 20th century thinking that says, yes, downtown does suck, and, yes, that's all it's ever going to do. So build as many freeways through it as you can so people won't get stuck in the suck.

But, wait. Who is he again? What does he work for, The North Texas Council of Committees of Central American ... uh ... what? Who cares what this guy says?

Oh, believe me. Eeeeverybody who knows what's what cares deeply. You can forget about mayors and city councils and state legislators and sometimes even congresspersons. Morris has way more stick than those guys.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments is what is called a metropolitan planning organization (MPO). In the 1990s, when the Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), the act gave MPOs like the one Morris works for major authority to divvy up federal transportation money in their regions. The idea -- or what we might now call "the joke" -- was that the MPOs would lift transportation planning up out of the swamp of politics and make it "rational," whatever that word ever really means.

Look. Billions of dollars. Decisions about where highways go or don't go. A magic wand that makes land values in one place soar and values in another crater. Is that ever going to be not political? We don't think the people who own a whole bunch of land are going to slip upside their local MPO and put that little critter on a rhinestone leash?

If you look back over the years, in fact, Morris has been the old establishment's most aggressive politician on transportation issues, barnstorming in 2007 to save the Trinity River Toll Road, for example, when it was threatened by a referendum. If you compare what he has said about that particular project over the years, what leaps out is that Morris, an academic planner by profession, can muster highly technical-sounding, not to say deliberately inscrutable arguments to support any position, even when he has to change position 180 degrees.

When he started huckstering for it 15 years ago, Morris said the toll road would provide a crucial detour and "reliever" route during the state highway department's "Project Pegasus" rebuild of the old "mixmaster" freeway exchanges downtown -- a project he always painted as a kind of life and death heart transplant for downtown.

But in 2012 the state said there wouldn't be money for both Project Pegasus and the toll road. State highway officials also said Pegasus could be done without the toll road as a detour. Morris immediately told The Dallas Morning News that Pegasus was a piece of junk and a waste of money and that if only one project could be done it should be the toll road alone.

Build the detour but not the highway? Yup. You could almost see that rhinestone leash jerking.

There has been a slow awakening around the country to the problems created by funneling huge federal resources through obscure regional planning agencies with almost no visibility and little real political accountability. In 2009 The New York Times did a piece in which some people bitched that most of the nation's MPOs seemed to be under rural/suburban control at the expense of cities.

That same year, Morris was partnered up with Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price in efforts to slow down development of Dallas' big "inland Port" rail and shipping project in southern Dallas, painting the main developer as insensitive to racial issues even though that developer's minority participation rates far outstripped that of Morris' own organization. I found back then there were some people in the Legislature sort of worried or perplexed about a dude like Morris, who was supposed to be Professor Rational with pop-bottle glasses and chalk all over his tweed jacket -- above politics and all -- out there in the trenches slinging mud with the best of the rascals. But you know, that's Austin. Concern and perplexity seldom outlast the cocktail hour.

I don't think people get what the MPOs have become, and Michael Morris is the poster boy for it. They have become their own kind of back channel, a sequester where the money can be diverted and controlled by the rhinestone leash-holders.

Peter Simek has a good piece over on Frontburner about this latest Michael Morris brouhaha, in which Morris seems to slap the leadership of the city with his white parade gloves, telling Dallas it can study tearing down I-345 all it wants but the teardown is never going to happen. Simek concludes, "How many times does this guy need to be put in his place?"

Ah, but you see, there is the problem. He's in his place. And it's big. Let me ask you something: Why else would he talk like that?



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72 comments
if6were9
if6were9

Once y'all get it through your pea-brained selves that Dallas sucks. The quicker we can move on to more pressing issues like best BBQ bacon tofu burger in town. Be good to each other out there, folks. Peace......it's time to take my meds :)

Threeboys
Threeboys

I would like someone to outline how wonderful and fabulous the east end of downtown and deep ellum were before 345 was built. And how much more walkable that area was then? You can walk under 345 only to be run over by the beloved dart train.

greg_barton
greg_barton

"...a rickety elevated highway..."

I don't understand this obsession with tearing down 345. How is it stopping downtown from being "cool"? My sister lives in Brooklyn and regularly heads down to the Navy Yards, biking and walking under an elevated highway. It's no big deal. In fact it's not a deal at all. Is Brooklyn cool? Yeah.

greg_barton
greg_barton

"...a rickety elevated highway..."

I don't understand this obsession with tearing down 345. How is it stopping downtown from being "cool"? My sister lives in Brooklyn and regularly heads down to the Navy Yards, biking and walking under an elevated highway. It's no big deal. In fact it's not a deal at all. Is Brooklyn cool? Yeah.

WylieH
WylieH

Michael Morris is one of the single most dangerous, problematic individuals threatening the lifeblood of Dallas.  His long-discredited penchant for favoring suburban interests over the interests of Dallas is killing the City of Dallas and Dallas County... absolutely killing it.

Don't believe me?

Well, how about the 224,616 jobs that his policies have killed in Dallas County in the 9 year time span from 2000 to 2009?  (It has continued to decline since then, as well)

Source:  http://www.ntc-dfw.org/northtexas/demodallas.html

The tidal wave of jobs and businesses flooding north and west out of Dallas County to the suburbs is one of local government's dirty little secrets.  The data is all there, it is compiled by the U.S. Government, but who is going to own up to the fact that North Texas "regionalism" has permanently disrupted the lives of over half a million people living in Dallas County?  Answer:  no one.

I am sure he is a nice man.  However, he needs to go, and go quickly.

Also, the City of Dallas needs to make priority one getting the NCTCOG reformed, before it literally kills the City.  Vonciel Jones Hill is not up to the task, and she is leaving Council soon, anyway.

Anon.
Anon.

I'd like to correct what appears to be a misinterpretation. This would not turn the entire highway into a toll road. That would be illegal. Only the managed lane component would be tolled.

From a cursory reading of the material, it appears there are between six and ten tax supported (i.e. "free lanes") and one or two reversible managed lanes as the tolled component. There seem to be improvements to the frontage roads and the entrance and exit ramps as well.

As to the other questions, the NCTCOG hires (or fires) Michael Morris and that organization is under the review of the state legislature. Got concerns? Talk with your state representative. The legislative session is gearing up and now is the time to get your issues and ideas to your state elected rep or senator.

Threeboys
Threeboys

Tear down the highways all you want. Dallas is walkable for about 6 months a year. It felt like 150 degrees on Friday. I'm not walking anywhere in that.

RustyShackleford
RustyShackleford

Even if it may never happen, in theory, which person(s) has the authority to shit can this guy?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

So put Patrick Kennedy in Morris's slot.

(General Kennedy leaning over The Big Map like George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove . . . )

"Mr. President, I propose we blow thirty-seven bridges and make the whole damn metropolitan area one big-butted walkabilly with a bad attitude!"

"It's the ONLY way, Mr. President!  The Europeans are WAY out ahead of us this world class thing and it's either that or we nuke 'em!"

Mr. President:   "Dr. Strangelove, what do you think?"

"yes, put Herr Kennedy in charge of the region.  Of course, then he might think . . . regionally, and thus our fate would be one of mutually assured destruction."

(bring up music, roll credits).

Greg820
Greg820

"Teardown" is a simplistic and deceptive term for what will be a very complex and expensive restructuring of the 75 / 30 / 45 interchange.I am all for reconnecting communities that are divided by concrete barriers, but lets’ call this project what it is, not what we wish it to be.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

I saw an interesting documentary over the weekend about when they were building the Barclay's center in Brooklyn.  The City officials didn't have a say at all.  There were some state and transit authorities that had all the leverage, but not the locals or their local leaders.


Seems like a bit of the same scenario here. 

amuse2
amuse2

How does this guy get selected? Who appoints him? How can he be recalled? Replaced?

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

I'm picturing Guy Fawkes lurking under I-345 in the not so distant future.

zewkini
zewkini

I345 is a clearly a vital hub for traffic transiting to and from I30, I45, and US75.  It is not going away, ever.  This is rational.

WylieH
WylieH

@greg_barton False analogy... that road is built into the side of an embankment and doesn't intrude on the adjacent neighborhoods.  It's not even close to being similar to I-345 in any respect, other than the fact it is a limited access highway.

Next?

WylieH
WylieH

@greg_barton Yeah.  You already said that.  You are wrong for the reasons I stated.  Next?

dfw_maverick
dfw_maverick

@WylieH  I'm guessing the quality of the schools has a major impact on where businesses locate, let's not give all the blame to this one guy

WylieH
WylieH

@Anon. There is actually quite a bit of growing concern in Austin about Morris and NCTCOG... not a bad idea to start making those connections.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@holmantx

"... one big-butted walkabilly with a bad attitude!"

I hate it when you're funny.

WylieH
WylieH

@Greg820 Greg, you're really working hard on building that red-herring, aren't you?  We are talking about not rebuilding I-345 after it is torn down (which Morris already plans to do).  As an alternative, the street grid would be reconnected in such a manner as to address the traffic issues.  THAT is the point of the study.

probablyroballyn
probablyroballyn

@Greg820 So many similar, no identical, comments around the internet lately.  I can think of a few folks who might hire PR firm to support highway construction, but it seems like they should get better service for their money.

WylieH
WylieH

@amuse2 No one really knows.... that's pretty terrifying.

WylieH
WylieH

@zewkini Several hundred thousand cars per day would use Mockingbird Lane if it was converted into an elevated 6-lane freeway from Central Expressway to Stemmons (I-35) through the Park Cities.

Can't stop progress.  I say, let the dirt fly!

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@zewkini I find that whenever one uses the adverb "clearly," the proposition described as such is always anything but "clear."

WylieH
WylieH

@dfw_maverick @WylieH By sucking 266,000 jobs and tens of thousands of businesses out of Dallas County, seduced by the prospect of billions in new roads leading to fresh, cheap land and new infrastructure, Michael Morris has eroded the tax base of DISD.


Morris has had a massive, negative influence on DISD.  People in South Dallas face longer, and longer commutes to the businesses that have relocated up north to the promised land.  Less time to spend interacting with their children as a result.

Anon.
Anon.

@Wylie

I'm aware of the opinion of a number of folks in the legislature. They are right to be concerned. Very concerned.

Greg820
Greg820

@WylieH @Greg820 

Gotcha.So would the bridge from 45 to the north side of 30 be a Dukes of Hazard style jump or just a precipitous 60 foot drop? At least a mile of 45 south of 30 would have to be rebuilt to accommodate such a change in grade to ground level. What about the traffic that can no longer easily get to Woodall and will just dump into an already overcrowded I-30?Neato! Does any proponent of the “Teardown” actually look at maps or, I don’t know, actually physically look at and drive on the bridges and traffic they are talking about?Fortunately, traffic planners do, and I so look forward to an official report on this subject also.I love the taste of a good Red Herring.

Greg820
Greg820

@probablyroballyn @Greg820  Ah yes, very observant, but tragically I am not a highly or lowly paid PR guy.  I am an acutal born and raised citizen of Dallas who has seen so many wonder projects come and go. Monorail song, anyone?  You can find me on Facebook as Greg Brown.

Anon.
Anon.

Morris is hired (or fired) by the NCTCOG.

ghkyluhhje
ghkyluhhje

@WylieH "Several hundred thousand cars per day would use Mockingbird Lane if it was converted into an elevated 6-lane freeway from Central Expressway to Stemmons (I-35) through the Park Cities."


-Two things:


1. You're dodging. Mockingbird is several miles north of the area under discussion, and is also east-west, not north-south as is the area under discussion. I'm not sure how you get around when you don't know anything about the roads in Dallas.


2. Replacing one elevated freeway with another one seems like silly substitution.


Conclusion: Leave urban planning and civil engineering to the professionals-or, at least to the amateurs with logic skills and knowledge of the local geography.

dingo
dingo

@James_the_P3 

I find that whenever one uses the adverb "always," the proposition described as such is always anything but "perpetual."

Anon.
Anon.

Morris supported giving two million regional transportation dollars to South Dallas as some sort of "work training" pilot project. Granted, two million transportation dollars don't buy much in the way of a highway project, but those dollars can be very helpful politically when spent in the right way.

http://www.nctcog.org/edo/docs/201302COMPLETEAGENDA.pdf

Item9. Resolution Approving Pilot JobOpportunity Partnership Program and Sidewalk/Landscaping Construction ProjectProgram

MichaelMorris, Director of Transportation, explained that the Job OpportunityPartnership Program and

Sidewalk/LandscapingConstruction Project Program is a result of coordination between the City ofDallas, the Texas Department of Transportation, Workforce Dallas, and NCTCOG.This initiative was originated by Dallas City Councilmember Carolyn Davis withthe aim to increase the competitive effectiveness of minority contractors for construction jobs and to provide untrained, disadvantaged residents with construction skill sets to be employable on transportation construction jobs. This program has an ancillary component of providing paid field experience for trainees who are not able to be placed immediately on Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)construction projects by giving them the option of gaining experience on smaller-scale construction projects. This pilot program is anticipated to cost approximately $2 million over a five-year period and has two elements: 1)public outreach on: job training, Disadvantage Business Enterprise (DBE)contracting, and upcoming transportation projects that would impact the community and 2) transportation project field experience through specific TxDOTand/or city projects. The program will be open to all residents.

The training element of this program is anticipated to begin in 2013 so that trainees can receive the proper certifications and be eligible to work on TxDOT’sSM Wright project, which is expected to go to contract the first quarter of2014. Program funding for this element will be needed from 2013 to mid-2017 at an overall cost of $1 million. Since this cost is not eligible for any RegionalTransportation Council-selected funding sources, an agreement has been reached between Regional Transportation Council (RTC) and TxDOT to swap funds for a TxDOTfunding source that is eligible. TxDOT wishes to make this initiative a statewide model. Activities, resources, and materials funded through this element will include, but are not limited to: training leading to certification;limited staffing; community outreach including periodic briefings and newsletters; assessment testing; maintaining lease space; and training manuals. At the community level, by harnessing the joint benefits of highway/mobility improvements, enhanced minority contractor competitiveness and a pool of residents certified to perform highway construction tasks, this program is anticipated to function as an economic development engine for communities that choose to participate.

CitzenKim
CitzenKim

@WylieH @dfw_maverick Dallas government, Dallas schools, Dallas congestion, and Dallas crime are what have driven jobs and people out of Dallas to the north.  Morris is just meeting the demand.

WylieH
WylieH

@Greg820 @WylieH Yes.  The northern ends of I-345 have to make a sharp decent to connect to both Woodall Rodgers and Central Expressway.  So that transition actually gets better, not worse.  Agreed that there is a need to address the grade change on the southern end, but that structure would be significantly shorter in length & height and much less expensive than the rebuild Michael Morris wants to do.


I do, however, award you extra points for your snarky, know-it-all attitude.

WylieH
WylieH

@Greg820 @probablyroballyn Very true... Michael Morris' blade-runner-esque spaghetti mess of highways feels very much like what is described in the "monorail song."  Michael Morris, promoter-in-chief.

Greg820
Greg820

@probablyroballyn Still trying to find a good name for D-Mag.  Cardinal Fang or TheComfyChair are real contenders.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@amuse2 @James_the_P3  Clearly, as I look out the unclear windows of my downtown office tower, 345 is clearly packed with cars with clear intentions of using that passing by downtown, so clearly we should knock the bridge down and make them come into downtown even though clearly they have no intentions of stopping there.  Clearly

WylieH
WylieH

@CitzenKim @WylieH @dfw_maverick False, false, false, and false.

Did you ever go out to the northern end of the Dallas North Tollway when it was first built?  Nothing but farms out there.... and then, a high-speed completely empty toll road was built.  Given this new, multi-billlion highway, companies started locating there on cheap land, in places with low taxes, because there was no existing infrastructure to maintain.  People started moving to take advantage of cheap housing developments, etc., etc.

All of this movement served to undermine the City of Dallas' tax base.

Michael Morris is like a deranged homeowner who builds a house in say, 1950.  Then, as the home ages, rather than pay to keep it well-maintained, he just borrows money and builds a new addition onto the house, as that part starts to age, he just keeps borrowing more money and adding more additions onto the back.  Eventually, the house gets so long that he needs to build a moving sidewalk to transport the people who are still living in the rundown part of the original house to all the shiny new stuff in the back.

That's Michael Morris' philosophy in a nutshell.

ghkyluhhje
ghkyluhhje

@Montemalone "Like an elevated highway, WylieH went way over your head."


-Well, I'm not surprised, his head being up in the clouds and all. Thankfully, I remain grounded.

pm.lynch
pm.lynch

@ScottsMerkin @amuse2 @James_the_P3 Why drive through an already congested area when that congested area is not your destination?  Because 345 is there, that's why.  If you build it, they will come.  If you tear it down, they will find another way to their actual destination.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@WylieH @CitzenKim @dfw_maverick As I recall didnt the tollway end where Perot's land began?  And then he moved EDS up to the land he owned saving him tons of money with his ag exemptions and massive amounts of land to develop exactly as he wanted?

The_triplefake_Brandon_Eley
The_triplefake_Brandon_Eley

@ScottsMerkin 

When I moved here in 1988, DNT ended around Frankford Rd, which I believe is city of Dallas.  As Plano & Frisco grew, the tollway was extended north, but I cannot say with any certainty if the tollway caused the growth or the growth caused the extension.    

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