Why Do We Need the Trinity Toll Road? Here’s the Answer, and It’s Pretty Lame.

If you need proof that toll road supporters are scrambling to come up with any justification for this thing or apply antiquated thinking to its planning, then here it is.

On Friday, we mentioned the Dallas Morning News’ story about how many of the supporters of the Trinity Toll Road had gone silent since a consumer advocacy group called the proposed road a boondoggle. Well, over the weekend, the DMN’s transportation writer, Brandon Formby, filed a follow-up. Road supporters are now talking, and if you need proof that they are scrambling to come up with any justification for this thing or apply antiquated thinking to its planning, then here it is. Basically, NCTCOG transportation director Michael Morris argues that we need the toll road not because it will substantially relieve congestion along the I-35 corridor (which traffic projections say it won’t) but because it will increase congestion on some streets, decrease on others, and otherwise shift traffic around in a way that will improve economic development. Here’s the breakdown of how Morris believes the road will impact traffic patterns:

Morris also used maps from the same document as evidence that the number of drivers on several city streets would drop dramatically if the road were built. Those maps show big drops on Riverfront and Irving boulevards, which would run parallel to the toll road. It also shows significant drops for Lamar Street in east Oak Cliff. Several streets in downtown Dallas would also see the number of drivers drop by up to 3,500 a day.

Other arteries would see significant increases in drivers with the toll road. That includes Hampton Road from the Trinity River to Wright Street, the Houston Street viaduct and Oak Lawn Avenue between I-35E and Maple Avenue.

So let’s take a step back and think about what this means. How should urban street networks function? Generally, on smaller streets, we want traffic, because it dampens the speed of vehicles and helps stir street-level economic development and neighborhood vibrancy. Wider roads that cut through the street grid, we typically want these to function as conduits that can efficiently move cars through the city. Highways don’t belong in urban environments, but when they are there, the wider streets and boulevards can serve as reliever routes for intra-urban travel.

But let’s see what scenario Morris has described. The streets where we’d like to see more traffic to help stir denser, more urban development — like Riverfront and streets in downtown Dallas — would lose traffic because of the road. Meanwhile, road arteries that feed traffic through the street grid and help supplement intra-urban travel — Hampton Road, the Houston Street viaduct, and Oak Lawn — would get even more congested. And the highways? No real change.

So there you have it, the justification for the Trinity toll road is that it will match the wrong kind of traffic congestion with the wrong kind of traffic relief, resulting in the wrong kind of economic development, all the while ruining a Dallas greenbelt and costing tax payers billions of dollars. Pretty sweet, right?

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