What Did He Know And When Did He Know It

The great Michael Lindenberger’s exegesis yesterday of Tom Leppert’s statements in the 2007 campaign for the Trinity toll way shows a newly elected mayor putting a positive spin on the Army Corps of Engineers’ levee concerns. Leppert’s gung-ho, “get-the-dirt-flyin” optimism in the face of the Corps’ Delphic pronouncements can be read either generously or conspiratorially. Angela Hunt takes the former tack:

“The mayor is a salesman,” Hunt said. “I was there, telling him the corps had not approved this thing. He knew that what he was saying was not accurate. But I think he believed he could make it accurate, given some time. He sincerely believed this project would win approval and that, a year down the road, everything would be just fine.”

What neither of them knew was that sand would be discovered in the levee base. Nor did either of them know that enginering studies would determine that water seepage from the bridge piers could undermine the levees. Even though the Federal Highway Administration continues to support the project — and says these problems can be fixed — what the rest of us are beginning to figure out is that the cost of fixing them will cause the costs of the toll way option to skyrocket. For now, all we can do is wait for engineering studies to tell us by how much and whether the FHA is willing to foot the bill. Meanwhle, how is that Plan B coming?


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52 responses to “What Did He Know And When Did He Know It”

  1. olive loaf says:

    Plan B is already here: http://www.projectpegasus.org. Remind me, why do we need a tollway?

  2. mm says:

    Wow, I have a lot of respect for Angela Hunt in taking the high road. Not sure I could have done it. She endured all kinds of taunts and ridicule for being the one person on the council to question this fiasco.

  3. Daniel says:

    Angla Hunt proves herself a class act — none of the stridency we saw in our previous resident gadfly (who went on, incongruously, to become Mayor Pearls). Leppert — well, he falls short of outright slimeball status. So far as we know so far. That’s about it.

    The “discovery” of sand in the levees should come as a surprise to no one possessing even a passing familiarity with the geography of this area.

  4. Daniel says:

    Angela. She’s actually not an Angla, but a Latina, married name notwithstanding. Overheard it at a cocktail party. Is it true? It shouldn’t be relevant, but I mean, you know.

  5. Dallasite says:


    “The “discovery” of sand in the levees should come as a surprise to no one possessing even a passing familiarity with the geography of this area.”

    Those levees weren’t built by Mother Nature, and unless you had inside knowledge regarding their original construction, there’s no possible way that you, or anyone else, could have known there was sand in the them. The local “geography” is irrelevant.

  6. Simple Facts says:

    Dallasite, this project would be dead even without the discovery of sand in the levees. Let’s reject this spin right now.

    The Army Corps of Engineers thinks that building a tollroad between the levees would weaken the levees. It’s that simple. That’s what Hunt was saying all along. Meanwhile, we all know what Leppert said about the Corp.

  7. Daniel says:

    Fair enough on the one hand, Dallasite, but one would assume local soil was involved, and abutting the Trinity there was a soil formation known as the Lagow Sandpit.

    It’s not like somebody should just know that. But you’d think somebody would have wondered at some point in the last, oh, eleven years just what the levees were made of. And even without taking soil samples, it would be a decent surmise, upon rudimentary research, that they contained some sand.

  8. Harold says:

    @Simple Facts – maybe so, but if the sand allows the major players to back out of the tollway while keeping their pride, so be it. Now lets make the no-tollway trinity. Let’s substitute the federal transportation dollars portion of the funding with the federal flood controll dollars. This sand could end up being the best thing that ever happened to this project.

  9. Dallasite says:

    @Simple Facts:

    “Dallasite, this project would be dead even without the discovery of sand in the levees. Let’s reject this spin right now.”

    What I said wasn’t spin. I’ve never been in favor of this project. I see it as a giant bucket of pork. The city’s current park budget is so dry that they can’t leave the fountains in Pegasus Plaza on for more than one hour per day, yet they are going to build the largest city park in the country? How do they plan to operate it, with hopes and dreams?

    Due to safety issues (perceived or real), most of Dallas will shun the Trinity park, and it will turn into the world’s largest outdoor homeless refuge.

    Screw the park, the tollway, and the spin; use the money that has been collected to build a first class subway system.

  10. Lorlee Bartos says:

    I am just amazed at the timing of this article. Where was the DMN when we were having the vote. NOW they get around to asking the questions they should have asked then.

  11. Not the Insider says:

    It has already been proven that Lindenberger has been “selective” in what information he writes – even when he knows more, or knows something that contradicts the DMN’s stance on the project. What stunned me in the article was his sudden “Hey! I’ve looked into this and something smells fishy” investigative reporting tone – as if he has just NOW had access to the records and the whole project is something completely new and unknown to him.

    He (and others) have known these facts all along. To start dancing now and poking fingers in the dike is too late.

  12. Billusa99 says:

    Maybe the guys at the DMN are finally fighting to keep their jobs with relevant stories?

    Anybody that has spent any time reading about what went on in New Orleans over the past 30 years with their levees knows full well that The Corp will never be causght again bowing to local political chicanery in order to approve something.

    Of course, Leppert, being an ex-CEO never having to take “no” for an answer is still figuring that part out.

  13. tommy smothers says:

    It’s goofy for blog commenters or politicians to pontificate about engineering issues. Most of us don’t know enough to know if the road can or cannot be safely designed. But we do know that there’s a money gap. Even without adding new engineering features, the road won’t begin to generate enough tolls to allow it to be financed solely with toll revenue bonds. Excess tolls on other NTTA roads are already allocated — to the tune of $3 billion-plus — to other regional road projects, so the NTTA can’t fill the money gap. Neither can TxDOT, nor the City of Dallas. That leaves the feds. Wick’s exactly right when he says, “For now, all we can do is wait for engineering studies to tell us by how much [costs will increase] and whether the FHA is willing to foot the bill.”

  14. Apium Graveolens says:

    Hi! I’m a celery!

    Like many of you, I read the Dallas Morning News for my facts and listened to Mayor Tom, and I voted for the tollway for the same reason many of you did, so that we could be seated with dignity at the head table of civic recognition right next to our noble leaders.

    Now what are we to do? I find my roots cruelly hacked away, my frilly top (which I liked ever so much!) snipped with disdain, and now a monstrous paw has grabbed me rudely and wants to thrust me into a nasty jar of bleu cheese dressing!

    How did it ever happen that we became so callously confused with mere food?

  15. jrp says:

    you don’t have to be an engineer to take one look at the river and the levees and think “there’s no fucking way that a road should go there”

  16. Brandon says:

    good post – Wick, I noticed two typos – you inadvertently misspelled meanwhile and engineering

  17. Daniel says:

    And you’re a recent arrival, no less, jrp. Every 5-8 years, the Trinity floods fully levee-to-levee. This whole thing is so preposterous it’s hard to believe we’re even discussing it.

    I’m no Schutze, but you can’t help but wonder who are the powers arrayed in favor of this ridiculous project, and why? The highway officials say it won’t mitigate congestion sufficiently to justify its existence; the Corps clearly sees it as a disaster in the making; even if it passed the referendum, it would be accurate to call it unpopular; and costs have spiralled significantly out of control. Whence the proponents’ tenacity exactly?

  18. Daniel says:

    even though it passed the referendum

  19. jrp says:

    yeah, dude, i’ve been here 3.5 years and have seen it crest from levee to levee once

    why a road is even talked about is beyond me

    and i love this bridge they’ve started at the west end of stemmons that i assume would connect to singleton blvd on the west side of the river, the one with the girders directly into the levees that the Corps cited as improper

    i come into downtown that way sometimes when 30 is backed up and, again i’m no engineer, but i said to my wife months ago “that’s not good” when i first saw the huge concrete girders going directly into the levee

    Leppert bows to the altar of corporate America…it’s that simple

    his God is big business. period. that’s where his alms will go

  20. BF says:

    If the Trinity project fails, can we also re-open the great debate over renaming Industrial Blvd after Cesar Chavez. Think of the fun we can have once again…

  21. The Bigger Guy says:

    Aren’t you about a year and a half late with this information? Worse yet, haven’t you spent the last year and a half bashing another publication for stating the same facts? Wick never lets us down in taking hypocrisy to a new level.
    Here is a some news for you Wick. The never found any WMD’s in Iraq. Obama is the first black President.
    Now give credit where credit is due.

  22. Not the Insider Either says:

    @ Not the Insider

    You’re flat out wrong about Lindenberger. The command center of the DMN is raising the question this morning that it was Leppert who fooled the public. This would logically exclude Lindenberger from any blame, otherwise he would have been mentioned as part of the problem along with Leppert.

  23. Suze says:

    “The parkway must be built. Dallas desperately needs a reliever route for the Stemmons mixmaster. The Trinity is the only place to build it. (Even Hunt hasn’t been able to come up with an alternative.) The entire Trinity project is premised on the federal money the parkway attracts. Without the parkway, the whole project could collapse.

    Wick Allison, D Magazine, June 2007. http://www.dmagazine.com/2007/05/21/A_Road_Will_Run_Through_It.aspx

  24. The Bigger Guy says:

    You know it is exactly this insider bullshit from D and DMN that is going to put both of these rags out of biz. How about it Wick?
    Is this another missing dots situation?

  25. History Lesson says:

    For those interested in history, the reason cited for Portland’s change to one of the most walkable, bikable, livable cities in the US began after the 20 year fight to build a freeway through the city was blocked:


  26. Jay Jay says:

    Where the hell were you guys during the election? Lindenberger is some sort of genius for putting in the paper today what we knew years ago? Did you go to any of the debates? Did you read anything or even try to listen?

    That’s what’s wrong with politics today. People just sit back all stupid and don’t bother actually seeking out all of the information. Meanwhile, those of us who pay attention get screwed. Thanks!

  27. Wick Allison says:

    @ Suze: Thank you for quoting me. I agree with myself totally. We have to have the parkway if we expect to get FHA funding, and without FHA funding we won’t have the Trinity project.

    @jrp: Exactly which companies are on that “altar of corporate America” Leppert is “bowing to” on the Trinity? C’mon, we can handle it. Name names.

  28. Ahem says:


    Why would the Federal HIGHWAY Administration (FHA) determine the outcome of the entire Trinity Project (the parks, bridges, etc)? Are you saying that the FHA will directly provide money for the project beyond the toll way. I don’t know all my government agencies like I should, but that does not make any sense.

  29. Angela Hunt says:

    Wick, you say, “without FHA funding we won’t have the Trinity project.” Aside from the toll road, what parts of the Trinity project do you think the FHA is funding? You also state, “We have to have the parkway if we expect to get FHA funding.” FHA funding for what exactly?

  30. SneakyPete says:

    Haha! Wick got called out. Burn.

    Methinks Mr. Allison has been parroting old “Vote NO!” talking points and has no real knowledge of the project or its financing. Please answer Ms. Hunt’s questions and prove me wrong. And show your work. 😛

  31. tommy smothers says:

    The Federal Housing Administration is typically identified as the FHA. The Federal Highway Administration is known as the FHWA. Are they both involved now?

    Wouldn’t it be a really bad idea to try to put a toll road and apartments inside the levees?

  32. Hogpile on Wick says:

    Wick has submitted two post on the toll road in the last week. The first was mostly a history lesson with a squishy P.O.V. on whether to proceed. This post indicates that the excuse for the pro-toll road people is now, “we didn’t know there was sand.” His “facts” are squishy at best.

    But this making good theater.

  33. Daniel says:

    I reiterate that the Lagow Sandpit is a known quantity to any local geologist or any well-versed archaeologist internationally. (There was actually a Lagow Sand Pit Man -perhaps the most monstrously named prehistoric hominid ever discovered. You can just see the 1950s B-movie poster.)

    This massive deposit of sand is in the immediate vicinity of the levees. I knew of it — although I never put 2 and 2 together until now, and for all I know, it’s different sand in the levees.

    Still. Isn’t somebody somewhere paid to put 2 and 2 together? Highway. Earthen levee. Lagow Sand Pit of Lagow Sand Pit Man fame. I mean, it’s been eleven years.

  34. Daniel says:

    Before any geologists take me to task, I should hasten to add that I use the word “massive” hyperbolically. It’s not massive. But it did have its own Man.

  35. Daniel says:

    Okay, okay, I Googled to refresh my memory — and the Lagow sand pit was a commercial endeavor that operated from the 19th century well into the 20th, not a geological soil deposit.

    By that standard, however, they were pretty massive. (And they still get their own Man, who turns out to have been a homo sapien about 10,000 years old who created a stir by being in the same stratigraphic layer as floral and faunal fossils from the Pleistocene.) These sand pits were located along the banks of the Trinity right in the vicinity of the levees. With sand. Lots of it.


    Eleven years? Mind. Boggling.

  36. Wick Allison says:

    @ Angela. As you well know, in 1998 voters approved $118 million (out of $246 million)in bonds for the parkway to be matched by $250 million in federal dollars (along with some $650 million in federal money for other items in the Trinity project). The bond approval and the federal matching funds were predicated on a comprehensive design to include flood ways, levee improvements,waterways, open space, and a parkway. You have made your opposition to the placement of the parkway within the levees well known. The evidence, when it all comes in, may yet prove you right. But to reject these dollars altogether would be to renege on the 1998 vote and unravel the entire project.

  37. Matt Pulle says:

    It won’t fly for toll road proponents to use the “we didn’t know about the sand deposits” excuse when the plans for the toll road finally collapse. The pro-road people said at every forum, in every interview and in every mailer, that the road was safe and financially viable–and those that suggested otherwise were blocking the city’s progress. They never expressed any doubts, which makes Craig Holcomb’s semi-apology to the DMN yesterday–“we didn’t have time for details”–all the more laughable.

  38. jrp says:

    @ Mr. Allison and as per his city of Dallas Web site bio “Tom most recently served as Chairman and CEO of The Turner Corporation, one of the world’s largest construction companies”

    need more names of corporate America companies that i believe our mayor is beholden to?

  39. donw says:

    The bottom line folks – whoever, in their right mind would put a path, road, tollway, Disney attraction, whatever, inside a levee is beyond me. Fools. Period.

  40. The Bigger Guy says:

    Wick you are so served dude.

    You are out of your league wit Angela Hunt.

    Do you ever read what you write?

  41. Wick is Dodging Questions says:

    @Wick –
    Please answer the questions instead of giving us a history lesson or changing the subject.

    In 2007 you wrote that if the referendum passed the entire Trinity project as outlined in the 1998 bond package would die. Why did you make that claim? Evidence?

    Today you claimed, “without FHA funding we won’t have the Trinity project.” I assume you mean the whole Trinity project, not just the toll road. Where is your proof?

  42. Wick Allison says:

    @ jrp: I’m not following you. I’m trying, but I can’t there from here. How does having worked for a company, even as a CEO, make someone “beholden” to it? Are you “beholden” to every company you ever worked for?

    @Wick is Dodging Questions: Not even a good try. Tune it up and come back with a better punch.

  43. One Adam 12 says:

    The arguments are devolving as the day goes by. Folks, please be thoughtful before hitting “send.”

    Wick, I wish you would have responded to Matt Pulle’s comments rather than cherry pitting picking some of the more non-sequitor claims.

    Why do we need a parkway as a reliever route?

  44. Angela Hunt says:

    @Wick. The notion that the Trinity Toll Road either secures funds for the Trinity River Corridor Project or that its demise will eliminate or jeopardize funding for other aspects of the plan, is factually incorrect. While this premise has been central to the strategy used by toll road advocates (“Don’t send a billion dollars down the river…”), you do a disservice to your readers and this project by continuing to espouse untruths that are belied by the facts.

    You: “In 1998 voters approved $118 million … in bonds for the parkway to be matched by $250 million in federal dollars….”
    Fact: In 1998 voters approved $118 million in Trinity bond funds for transportation projects. Of that, $84 million has been allocated to the Trinity Toll Road. There was and is no federal commitment to fund the Trinity Toll Road. There is no Congressional legislation or departmental agreements to that effect, and the FHWA has not allocated any funding to this toll road.

    The Trinity Toll Road is a joint project between the City, the NTTA, and TXDOT. Currently, the funding for the toll road is: $84 million from the City of Dallas, $150 – $200 million in state gas tax dollars, and some unspecified amount from the NTTA in the range of $400 to $500 million. At an estimated cost of $1.8 billion, there is currently a $1 billion funding gap.

    You: “[The city will receive] $650 million in federal money for other items in the Trinity project….”
    Fact: Perhaps these are the federal funds you fear the city will lose if we do not move forward with the toll road? Rest assured, none of this federal funding is dependent on the toll road. The city has already received $183.6 million in federal funding for various projects, along with a 2007 Congressional authorization for $459 million for the Dallas Floodway Project.

    The $183,575,736 in federal funding for the Trinity River Corridor Project breaks down as follows: $71,258,508 for the Dallas Floodway Extension Project, $8,324,205 for the Upper Trinity River Feasibility Study, $577,200 for the Bureau of Reclamation Study, $8,000,000 for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge (Woodall Rogers), $81,616,280 for the Margaret McDermott Bridge (I-30), and $13,799,543 for the I-35 Bridge.

    In 2007, Congress passed a Water Resources Development Act which included a $459 million authorization for the Dallas Floodway Project. This was only an authorization, and funding will have to be secured in future Energy and Water Appropriations. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee, has stated unequivocally that this funding is in no way related to or dependent upon the Trinity Toll Road.

    You: “…federal matching funds were predicated on a comprehensive design to include flood ways, levee improvements, waterways, open space, and a parkway.”
    Fact: The only “federal matching funds” in this project involve the Corps’ Dallas Floodway Extension Project. City bond money and private contributions are paying for the Trinity Park.

    The only part of the project that is in any way intertwined with the toll road is the lakes’ excavation. Here’s how that works, in theory: The NTTA has agreed to excavate the city’s lakes, and will use that dirt for the base of the toll road. The Corps will also use the excavated material to raise the levees, and that will serve as the city’s funding portion of the Dallas Floodway Extension Project. This is all hypothetical because it is unknown whether the excavated dirt will be suitable for use in either the toll road base or the levee raise. If the toll road were not built within the levees, the city would have to find funding to excavate the lakes, either by reallocating current TRCP bond funds, seeking additional bond funds from voters, or obtaining private funding. The most recent estimate for lake excavation is roughly $30 million.

    Perhaps when you talk of federally-funded projects, you are actually referring to Project Pegasus — TxDOT’s reconstruction and realignment of the Mixmaster, Lower Stemmons, and the Canyon intended to relieve traffic congestion in Downtown Dallas. TxDOT has stated that they are moving forward with Project Pegasus with or without the toll road. (Interestingly, at a cost of $1.463 billion, Project Pegasus is now less expensive than the Trinity Toll Road.)

    These facts contradict your statements that the city risks “unravel[ing] the entire project” by eliminating the toll road from the levees or (as you stated in 2007) that “The entire Trinity project is premised on the federal money the parkway attracts.”

    I do not presume that you are part of a grand conspiracy to ensure the construction of the Trinity Toll Road. But your profound ignorance about this project, combined with your lack of hesitation to opine about its financing with unwavering authority, make you complicit with those who knowingly mislead the public. Because your voice carries considerable weight in our city, it is imperative that the information you provide is accurate and your opinions based in fact.

  45. Wick Allison says:

    @ Angela: You are retailing once again the same arguments you wholesaled in 2007. And you are doing so, once again, disingenuously. To say, for example, that, “There was and is no federal commitment to fund the Trinity Toll Road” is a fact that hides the truth. The FHWA did not just complete a 4,000 page environmental report on the parkway because it had nothing better to do. There can be no commitment of money until the FHWA knows how much money needs to be committed. That depends on the final route, which has not yet been selected.

    As for Project Pegasus, it is again true that it can proceed without the reliever route. It is a separate project, separately funded. But once again, you are being disingenuous. Since 1998, the parkway reliever route has been a part of the planning for Pegasus, just as DART has been for the light rail portion, also separately funded. For more information on how these projects are intertwined, I direct you to the Project Pegasus website.

    Your modus operandi is to pull at every thread in your lawyerly way until one comes loose. My concern is that then the entire project unravels, and it is precisely the lake escavation to which I am referring. That was my position in 2007 when I opposed your referendum.

    The original 1998 plan, as you say, included lake excavation in the costs of the parkway construction. I have no reason to doubt your quote of a $30-million price tag for that, although I had not heard that figure. In the post that launched this discussion I stated my concern that the cost escalations due to meeting the Corps’ objections will skyrocket. Once the FHWA and the Corps have completed their engineering studies and negotiated their final settlement of the outstanding issues, the FHWA will have to determine if the cost of the inside-the-levee option is worth it. You and I will have to wait on that. However, it is unlikely, considering how tied the reliever route is to the Pegasus Project that the FHWA will abandon it altogether. I hope not. When talking about billions, it is easy in your disingenuous way to make the $30 million cost of lake escavation sound like a rounding error. But if there is no reliever road, that money will have to paid by Dallas, and Dallas does not have the money. Could you tell us now whether you would vote to raise taxes to pay it? That thread, once pulled, can indeed unravel the whole project.

    But you are not against a reliever road, or at least you weren’t in 2007. Is that correct? In fact, I recall that your campaign proposed Industrial as an alternative route. With the costs of the inside-the-levee option skyrocketing, either it or the original notion of two roads, one on either side of the river, seem to be the only options. Would you object to either of those? Perhaps in my profound ignorance I am confused as to where you stand. You do not make my education any easier when you continue to issue statements intentionally designed to obscure rather than elucidate the facts.

  46. Count Floyd says:

    @Angela and Wick — It’s not healthy to be on the interwebs between 2 and 5 a.m. Get some sleep!

  47. One Adam 12 says:

    Wick said, “You do not make my education any easier when you continue to issue statements intentionally designed to obscure rather than elucidate the facts.”

    The pot is calling the kettle black. Your posts in recent days are not crystal clear.

  48. The Bigger Guy says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen.

    In today’s performance, the role of Sarah Palin will be played by Wick Allison. No flash photography please, as it causes Mr.Allison to see missing dots.

  49. Dallas mom says:

    Please run for mayor!!!

  50. Angela Hunt says:

    Wick, you have opined at great length about the dire consequences that would befall the Trinity River Project were the toll road eliminated from the floodway. You have represented that “The entire Trinity project is premised on the federal money the parkway attracts.” You have identified “$650 million dollars in federal money for other items in the Trinity project” that you state “were predicated on a comprehensive design to indlcude floodways, levees improvements” etc. You state (as if this were an option I have proposed) “to reject these [federal] dollars altogether would be to renege on the 1998 vote and unravel the entire project.”

    If you are going to make these claims, back them up.

    In my previous post, I provided you fact after documented fact of how the city has received federal funding (or authorization for such funding) totaling $643 million that is unconnected with the toll road. I explained the funding sources for all other aspects of this project. None of it is dependent on the toll road. How do you account for the hundreds of millions of federal dollars you claim would be forfitted without the toll road?

    Since you cannot substantiate your claim that the “entire Trinity project is premised on the federal money the parkway attracts,” you try a different tack. Now you are trying to conflate Project Pegasus with the Trinity River Corridor Project. They are not one and the same, and you know that. Regardless, TxDOT has made it clear that Project Pegasus will proceed with or without the Trinity Toll Road. Former Texas Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson stated “If the toll road as envisioned now is radically changed, Project Pegasus will have to be redesigned. I’m not taking a position; it’s just a logical conclusion….Project Pegasus is so important to the clean air plan and congestion relief for North Texas. I can’t imagine a circumstance where it wouldn’t be redesigned and moved forward. It’s just that important.”

    With your baseless arguments undermined, you cling to the lake excavation expense the city might have to fund if the toll road were not constructed in the levees. (You ignore the fact that the city might have to fund that expense anyway if this soil cannot be used for the levee raise.)

    So your grand argument that “the entire Trinity project is premised on the federal money that the parkway attracts” has dwindled to a concern that the city might have to fund the cost of the lake excavation. That is quite a difference.

  51. Give Me A Freaking Break says:

    Wick is a graduate of the Alberto Gonzales School of Memory.

  52. Give Me A Freaking Break says:

    BTW, whrere is your paid suppot group?