What That Trinity Toll Road Meeting Was Really About

They didn't even serve barbecue.

Protestors at the mayor's speech
Protestors at the mayor’s speech

This morning, Mayor Mike Rawlings called a meeting at Babb Bros BBQ, in Trinity Groves, to make an announcement. It was a strange event. I’m still trying to figure out what really just happened.

Outside, three people dressed as turkeys handed out anti-toll-road flyers. They read, in part: “There’s no question that the Trinity toll road is the single biggest turkey in Dallas. That’s why we’re so excited about Mayor Rawlings’ steadfast support of it. With former proponents jumping ship left and right, it’s getting harder to find advocates for such an expensive, unnecessary, and counterproductive initiative. Thank you for standing up for REAL turkeys like the toll road, Mayor Rawlings!”

Inside, Mayor Mike Rawlings, with beer signs and guitars hanging behind him on a wall, said that the Trinity River Corridor Project is huge, that sometimes even he gets confused by it. He said its various parts need to be separated so that citizens can see progress and hold City Hall accountable. Which brought him to the toll road. He said, “What we do must be special and of the highest quality.” He said that we should hear from the feds in early 2015 whether we can build the road, that designers are working on the road but haven’t finished. So this is a perfect time to launch a “special design exploration.”

Then came handouts. The mayor announced that he has formed a “dream team” of designers. Their bios were printed on handouts for everyone to read. I’m pretty sure the mayor said they’d printed 100 handouts; there were more people than there were handouts. Maybe that’s why he decided to read every word of every bio of the six people who’ve signed up to help us design (or redesign?) the toll road.

Then the meeting ended, Rawlings thanked everyone for coming, and he left. I heard more than one person ask, “So that was it?” I said hi to Jim Schutze. He said, “At least I can tell the young people in the office that I made it to the early meeting.”

Councilman Philip Kingston wasn’t as cheery about the meeting. “That was fraudulent, was what it was!” he said. “It was lies. That guy is the mayor of our town. How can he get up there and say he’s confused by the Trinity Plan?” I asked Kingston if he was speaking on the record. “You’re damn right I am,” he said.

Angela Hunt was there, naturally. She characterized the mayor’s remarks as “disingenuous.” Here’s the thing: to get a record of decision on an environmental impact statement, you have to design something. Those designs have to be fairly detailed. You can’t just scribble some stuff on a cocktail napkin and hand it in. The feds have to review those designs. Then they tell you whether you can build a road in a floodway. So the notion that a bunch of planners and designers — even a dream team of them — could come in and significantly change the proposed six-lane toll road is hard to believe.

The architect Larry Good was there this morning. He told Hunt that he liked the team of planners that the mayor has assembled because there is no way they will recommend a high-speed, six-lane toll road with limited access points.

I said, “Well, then, whatever they recommend, it won’t work financially for the NTTA.” He agreed. I said, “So there’s no money to build it. Meaning there’s no road.” Good smiled.

You know what? I think the turkeys are wrong. I think what I saw this morning was the mayor announcing his cover for killing the toll road. He can’t just come out and say, “I’ve been talking to people, and I’ve changed my mind. I’m against this now. It’s dumb. And we’re going to go ahead and back out of our agreement with the NTTA to build this thing.” I’m not exactly sure why he can’t say that. Maybe because it’s hard to admit that you were wrong. Maybe because he has powerful friends and supporters who still want to build the road. So he assembles a dream team knowing full well what it will say about this road. Then he can point to the dream team, take credit for assembling it, and tell his friends and donors that his hands were tied.

I hope that’s what happened this morning. Otherwise, it was a real waste of everyone’s time to go to a barbecue joint just to get a handout.

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