Why Dallas Is Allowed to Ruin a Park With a Highway

Our elected officials exempted us from federal law.

In an Unfair Park post this morning explaining why it’s difficult for him to trust Trinity toll road proponents because of all the lies that have been told about the proposed highway and the adjacent park, Schutze recounts how our elected officials (most prominently former Mayor Tom Leppert and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison) created a special exemption just to make the project possible:

In 2010 when Republicans were filibustering President Obama’s defense spending bills — when defense bills were hard-fought battles in the congress, in other words — Leppert persuaded Hutchison to do some last-minute legislative sleight-of-hand with a defense spending bill that was about to finally get passed. She stuck two “riders” on that bill, provisions of little interest to anybody outside of Dallas, which received scant news coverage even here except in this newspaper.

Those riders said the Trinity River in Dallas was exempt from Section 4(f) of the act. A current U.S. Department of Transportation online publication explains that the FHWA is required by Section 4(f) to put “a thumb on the scale” in favor of park land wherever a highway touches a park, either by running along its edge or by cutting through its middle. Proponents can’t merely argue that a route that harms park land is the cheapest alternative, and, in fact, the FHWA must seriously consider any alternative that would spare the park.

That is the law everywhere in America but in Dallas and along the Trinity River, thanks to Hutchison and Leppert. At the time, Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm said the exemption was only for impacts to historic sites (as if that were a good thing). But we quoted people saying her statement was untrue, that the effect of the riders was so broad that they denuded the toll road project of all of the protective requirements of Section 4(f).

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