This morning Rudy Bush tweeted that there was an interesting Trinity toll road conversation going on during the open microphone section of the Dallas City Council meeting, so I decided to head on over to the city’s handy online video section and check it out. A trio of speakers, including a property owner in the Design District, talked about the value of that neighborhood’s proximity to the Trinity River park and how the proposed toll road could negatively affect the potential for the Design District to become even more of a premier neighborhood and destination.
The highlight of the open microphone session came at the tail end. During his remarks, the property owner expressed concern about the contradictions apparent in multiple Trinity toll road renderings produced by different agencies, like the NTTA and TxDOT, which show exit ramps from the proposed road swamping the Continental Pedestrian Bridge and even depicting cars driving on the pedestrian bridge. The owner asked for some clarification, and when he was finished, council member Sandy Greyson called Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to the microphone to sort out the confusion.
You can listen to Jordan’s response here beginning at around the 26:20 mark, and I’ve transcribed the lion’s share of what she said below. As you listen to her speak, I want you to close your eyes and picture what she is describing. Imagine what these twists of automobile-bearing concrete look like as you, say, try to ride a bike from downtown to the Trinity, or relax on a bench alongside one of the paths in the park after a morning run and attempt to admire the skyline.
There is no vehicular on the Continental Bridge from the East Levee across the floodway to the west Dallas side. What is happening there is there is an exit ramp form the southbound tollroad that would come over the top of the levee. The ramp splits. One of the two forks of the ramp comes in even with the Continental Bridge and we would have a traffic signal there so that the cars coming off of the ramp and off of the toll road would have to come to a stop, and then pedestrians and cyclists who are coming up Continental from Victory and downtown could proceed across the traffic that is trying to exit onto Continental.
The second ramp goes underneath the Continental Bridge. It doesn’t demolish the piers. It winds its way underneath the bridge taking advantage of the spacing between the pier columns. That ramp then goes underneath not only Continental but the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and comes back around and ties up to Woodall Rodgers and allows people coming southbound on the toll road to get onto Woodall Rodgers …
… The biggest impact from a historic perspective is the railing, because the ramp that comes in even with Continental. Obviously we’d have to take off some of that railing.
Right now there is a pedestrian portion, from that street to the top of the levee that is part of the pedestrian experience now. What will happen if the parkway is done and that connection is made is that section will have traffic, pedestrians, and cyclists and we’ll have to control it with a traffic signal.
The traffic count is very low for people wanting to go to Continental. It is very high for people wanting to go to Woodall Rodgers. And so we’re looking to see how we can shift the alignment and potentially ‘stage’ construct [Jordan used her index and middle fingers to add her own scare quotes around “stage”] the Continental exit and work with the adjacent property owner on the other side of the Continental Bridge to see if there is an alternative way to give local access to those properties as opposed to bringing them up on Continental.”
Okay, a few thoughts:
Remember how we have been told by the mayor and others that the design of the Trinity Toll Road is only 30 percent complete? That’s why Rawlings said it wasn’t ridiculous that he invited a team of experts to redesign an already designed road. Notice the amount of detail and design specifics that Jordan can recall on cue, presenting a very detailed understanding of precisely how this thing will be laid out. Here is just anecdotal confirmation of what many people have said, that the 30 percent number basically doesn’t mean anything. This thing is designed.
Secondly — and this one really riles me — notice that Jordan cites a traffic study that is being used to make decisions regarding the layout of the road, citing traffic projections for drivers who will use the road to connect to Woodall or exit at Continental. What traffic study is this? What are its assumptions? Who completed it? Is this the NTTA traffic study that the Texas attorney general ruled the NTTA doesn’t have to share with the public because it was supposedly “preliminary”? Is this the data that Mayor Rawlings claims he has not seen? If so, then why are we making decisions about the layout and design of the toll road and its exit ramps based on traffic volumes too preliminary to be made public record? (I have a call in to Jill Jordan to figure this one out, but she’s still in with the Council.)
Thirdly, I find it troubling how cavalier Jordan is when she suggests relocating onto private property an exit ramp that is currently slotted to come plopping down on the eastern edge of the Continental Bridge, creating a rather farcical sounding bottleneck (don’t worry, the picture Jordan describes of pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars running together will never happen because the cars coming off the toll road at that location will ensure that pedestrians and bicyclists stay far away from the eastern edge of the Continental Bridge — which I’m not sure is the point of the Continental Pedestrian Bridge, but that’s another matter). Aside from the connectivity issue this spaghetti ramp layout creates, no wonder there are so many developers sitting on their money and waiting to see which way the toll road shakes out before they act on new developments along Riverfront. Who knows if a toll road exit ramp may come ripping through your property or destroy the very amenities, like the Continental Bridge, that attracted you to investing in the area in the first place.
Finally, in that traffic study Jordan cites, she says that traffic demand for the exit ramp coming off the toll road and onto the Continental Bridge is low, whereas traffic demand for an exit ramp that will loop over the levee and onto Woodall Rodgers will be high. Imagine that ribbon of concrete stretching across the side of the river park some 40 feet in the air and looping over to Woodall Rodgers for a second, and then ask yourself who the toll road is for: Southern Dallas commuters, as the supporters of the road have been shilling over the past year or so, or Northern Dallas and suburban drivers looking to bypass the Mixmaster?
From the sound of it, there is no doubt that the toll road is being designed as a high-volume, high-velocity traffic artery highway connector and not a low-impact, manicured parkway to facilitate park access. This is a road designed for the interstate system, and the cost will not just be the billion-plus dollars no one can seem to find to pay for the road, but also the loss of investment and value that would be realized if we could just let the Design District and Riverfront develop as inner-city neighborhoods in a prime location between downtown and the nation’s largest urban greenbelt.
And it is not just potential investment and development that the exit ramps will impact. From the sound of it, they will also adversely affect some of the few successes of the Trinity River Project, like the Continental Pedestrian Bridge, and they make efforts like the Connected City campaign, which was supposed to brainstorm ways to connect the river to Riverfront and downtown, look like a giant joke. So why isn’t the Trinity Trust — the backer and advocate of all of these projects — up in arms? Why does it feel silly to even ask that question?