Meet the Texas Heelsplitter Mussel, the Costly New Hurdle to the Trinity River Project

Halff Associates
When Ron Kirk began pitching the Trinity River Project in the late 1990s, no one was thinking about the Texas heelsplitter or the Texas pigtoe, or the Mexican fawnsfoot, the smooth pimpleback, or the Texas fatmucket. There was no real reason to. Back then, the species were sufficiently abundant that they didn't merit state or federal protection.

That changed in 2010, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department listed those and 10 other freshwater mussels species as threatened. The mussels are an important part of aquatic ecosystems, the department explained, providing food to a variety of insects and animals. Habitat loss, excessive harvesting, and poor water quality all contributed to a decline in their numbers.

More to the point, the move helped forestall a listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would mean stricter rules and higher penalties, neither of which would be good for the Texas economy. Or so the argument goes. The federal agency's decision is still listed as being "under review."

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There's a Design Contest to Connect Downtown and the Trinity River. You Should Sabotage It.

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When I read a story in The Dallas Morning News this morning about a contest for ideas to link the Trinity River to downtown and saw that the contestants were required to include the city's stupid underwater proposed toll road on top of the river in their submissions, my first temptation, of course, was to write something sophomoric, irresponsible, counter-productive and unbecoming of a citizen of my years. Actually, that was also my second and third temptation.

The contest is called the "Connected City Design Challenge," sponsored by the CityDesign Studio, a worthy outfit as far as I know, and the Trinity Trust, a pro-toll road lobby and huckster outfit that I privately refer to as the Trinity Untrustworthy. So how much can we really expect?

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Park Board Votes Against Spending Extra Cash on Texas Horse Park

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One of Brown Reynolds Watford's original Texas Horse Park renderings. Plans have since been scaled back considerably.

In 2006, the city of Dallas picked the Dallas-based architecture of Brown Reynolds Watford to design the Texas Horse Park. At the time, plans still called for a massive, $30 million complex complete with a half-mile race track, grandstands, a therapeutic pool, an RV campground, and all sorts of other grand stuff. And that was just Phase I.

The plans have since been scaled back considerably, thanks in large part to the complete and utter failure of the campaign that was supposed to raise $15 million from private donors. The most recent iteration, which calls for the city to pay $12 million to build arenas, stalls, fenced pastures and otherwise develop a site that will primarily be used SMU and a couple of nonprofits, was presented to the City Council last month.

District 11 Park Board member Lee Kleinman sent the council a letter at the time urging members to oppose the horse park, and he wasn't just speaking for himself. Yesterday, the Park Board considered a proposal to extend the city's agreement with Brown Reynolds Watford -- those initial renderings won't scale themselves back -- and soundly rejected it.

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Hunt, Griggs Announce $6 Million Network of Hike and Bike Trails Between the Trinity Levees

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Last June, Angela Hunt and Scott Griggs went to the Trinity River Overlook and gazed down at the empty floodplain below. Wouldn't it be nice, they thought, if there was a network of trails down there that came up and over the levee and connected with all of Dallas' other trails.

It was a thought, but not much more than that. The original Trinity River Project had nothing about trails crisscrossing the flood plain, and given the miserly city budget there was zero chance that funding for something extra would suddenly materialize. There seemed little room, too, in the austere 2012 bond package, which City Manager Mary Suhm promised would be focused exclusively on the most basic of infrastructure projects.

But then the city discovered it had room for another $42 million in the bond program, $2.8 million for each council member and the mayor. Hunt and Griggs knew what they wanted to put it toward building trails along the Trinity and opening the floodplain, the closest thing Dallas has to a wilderness, for public enjoyment. They detailed their plan to Mayor Mike Rawlings, who agreed to chip in $500,000. Hence, the press conference this morning announcing a $6.1 million concrete trail running between the levees. You can see the map above.

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If You Weren't Paying Attention For the Past Decade, the Calatrava Bridge Will be Recapped in 30-Minute Documentary

Just when you thought the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge had been thoroughly feted, the Trinity Trust sends word that the celebration's not quite over yet.

On June 13, WFAA will premiere Bridging the Trinity For the Love of the City, a half-hour homage by local filmmaker Judy Kelly.

From Trinity Trust CEO Gail Thomas: "With this film, we can relive that celebratory moment and all of the dramatic moments leading up to it. On June 13, we will watch how this bridge was built, from the groundbreaking and topping off of the arch to the stringing of cables and three-day opening celebration."

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TxDOT Calls BS on its Own Figures Showing Benefits of Project Pegasus

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Last week, when Mayor Mike Rawlings announced he had hedged his support for the Trinity toll road after receiving additional data, it seemed like a victory for City Council members Scott Griggs, Angela Hunt, and Sandy Greyson, the project's opponents.

The figures Griggs rustled up from the Texas Department of Transportation purported to show that Project Pegasus -- a reworking of the Interstate 30 and I-35 interchange downtown that has since been excluded from the North Central Texas Council of Governments' transportation planning -- would cost less and provide more traffic relief than the toll road.

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Mayor Mike Rawlings Wants to Make This Clear: "Right Now, I'm a Toll Road Guy"

Mayor Mike Rawlings was a bit late for his 9 a.m. speech at this morning's "Building South" presentation at the Oak Cliff Chamber. I knew it was Mayor Mike because OC Chamber director Bob Stimson, waffling for time, kept saying things like "I was told if I started and talked real slow, the mayor would show up from around the corner."

No one appeared, so Stimson hemmed and hawed for a few more minutes, more slowly this time.

"Somebody look over there and tell me if the mayor's standing there yet. No?" Stimson paused. "Does anybody know a song?"

By the grace of God, this was the moment Rawlings stepped from the elevator into the Orion Ballroom.

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You Can Have Your Voice Ignored Again Tonight in the Trinity River Toll Road Debate

The Plan.
That's right: Tonight, during an open house and public meeting at the Dallas Convention Center, you can crop-dust NTTA with all your brilliant ideas to save the Trinity River flood plains from the dreaded pavement monster, only to see your suggestions treated like the things my wife leaves at the bottom of the steps: completely ignored and occasionally stepped on.

The open house starts at 5 p.m., followed by the hearing at 7. Get more details in the notice below. The New Guy will be there and will report back if they decide to scrap the whole thing and build the world's longest Crocodile Mile instead.

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Mike Rawlings Pledged Support for the Trinity Toll Road Today. But You Already Knew That.

Mike Rawlings is officially one of those people.
All right, I missed on one thing this morning in my predictive imaginary report on Mayor Rawlings' Toll Road press conference at City Hall. I predicted that former city councilman Dave Neumann would bound around the room like a kangaroo shouting "Pickles and applesauce." That did not happen. I think somebody tipped him.

Otherwise, I believe I will have to step up and claim 100 percent predictive accuracy for this thing, proving once and for all that there is no real need for me to get out of bed anymore ever, and the paper would be wise to just send somebody over to the house to fan me and drop grapes into my mouth at my leisure.

I said the mayor would talk about the future. He said, "If we are thoughtful, diligent and focused on our future, we will see a great plan unfold."

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Why Wait for Mike Rawlings' Trinity Toll Road Speech When We Know What He'll Say?

Photo by Sam Merten
Mayor Mike Rawlings reveals his love for the toll road today.
Yesterday Joe told you that Mike Rawlings, our mayor, is having a press conference today to announce how he feels about the Trinity River Toll Road.

So guess who's got to go to the damn thing at 12:30? OK, OK, I'm doin' it. Wow, everybody doesn't just need to get in a big huge wad about it. I'll go.

But if you read Joe's item and clicked through the links, the whole story is already there. I could report this thing without ever getting out of bed. But I have already gotten out of bed, OK? It's a figure of speech. Wow. Am I not trusted? I'm just suggesting that we do some simple Kremlinology here first. Who's going to be standing to the right of Kruschev on the review stand for this particular May Day Parade?

Attending with Mayor Rawlings will be Lee Jackson, chancellor of UNT, a non-academic who ascended to his comfortable and lucrative post after mongering for the toll road project as Dallas County Judge for years; Donna Halstead, a paid career henchperson for the toll-road-loving Dallas Citizens Council; John Scovell, a political fixer for oilman Ray ("Old Man River") Hunt; and former Dallas city council member and toll road cheerleader Dave Neumann, whom everybody had assumed before today to be either dead or in the wiggy ward.

So what's gonna happen? OK, just for grins, let's pretend I didn't get out of bed. Which I did, Joe. Hours ago. But what if I stayed in bed and reported this press conference now, the way it's obviously going to roll out? Could I do that and get it right? I'll give it a whirl, and then we shall compare my imaginary version with actual event later when the event actually happens.

Today's mayoral Trinity River Toll Road press conference -- a predictive report:

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