At the Trinity Commons Foundation luncheon today (where Jim Schutze ate a fancy $150 lunch while Peter and I sat in the back, in the media section, foodless), Larry Beasley took the mic and spent 40 minutes showing everyone how and why the Trinity toll road, as it is envisioned now, awaiting final federal approval, should be scrapped. Honestly, it was shocking. The head of the mayor’s Dream Team walked the audience of about 360 people through 10 specific recommendations that would radically reshape the road, effectively killing the the high-speed, six- to eight-lane monster we’ve been debating these many months. You can peruse the Dream Team’s full report, but here are the basics and what I’m guessing it all means.
– A huge highway is not needed. The numbers don’t support it. What we need is something Beasley called “a gracious and harmonious all-American parkway.” Four lanes will carry the projected traffic.
– Trucks should be banned from the road.
– There should be 15-plus pedestrian bridges that connect downtown with the park, going over the road.
– We should design this thing for a 10-year flood standard instead of 100, which would allow the road to connect better with the park. The road should meander and have small parking lots on either side.
– IF we toll it — Beasley used the word “if” — then perhaps the relatively small number of motorists who use the road to get to the park (rather just passing through) would not pay a toll.
– We need to move the jails. Beasley said that 7,000 people right now have a great view of the park — it’s just that they can’t leave.
– “You don’t need an aggressive new highway in this park. So don’t let it happen.” Beasley said we need to watch the highway engineers. Make them stay true to this vision.
– Reviewing these recommendations will involved a lengthy process. There needs to be input from citizens.
Now for what this might mean. First, the optimistic view: back in November, I somewhat facetiously suggested that the mayor forming this Dream Team was his way of generating cover while he backed out of the toll road. Maybe I was right. Even though between then and now he has voiced his support for the toll road, even though he voiced his support in his remarks before he introduced Beasley, he’s really against it. This was his plan all along. On Thursday, when he asks the Council to study how the Dream Team’s recommendations can be implemented, he’ll say, “Gee, guys. I’ve been wrong about this toll road all along. Larry has shown me that. This road isn’t about people from southern Dallas getting to their jobs. It’s not about flood control. Like Larry says, it’s all about connecting to the park. We have to shift our paradigm and think about the project from the perspective of the park.”
Next, the pessimistic view: what we saw today was great. A bunch of hired guns are trying to save us from ourselves. The mayor and the toll roaders are using them (as Angela Hunt has said) to make the toll road a non-issue in the upcoming elections. “Hey, we’re looking at how to implement the Dream Team’s recommendations. We want “a gracious and harmonious all-American parkway.” Enough toll roaders remain on the Council to start pouring concrete. The concrete becomes the six- to eight-lane monster.
It is worth noting that Beasley himself said that these recommendations work with the 3c alignment currently under review by the feds. That’s scary. The wide “bench” would accommodate the Dream Team’s meanders; it would also accommodate more lanes. But leave that decision to your children’s children, he said. Maybe by then, he said, people will have fallen in love with this road and the park, and they won’t want that big highway.
Finally, Occam’s view: no one has ever accused the mayor of being wonky. He has demonstrated an aversion to studying documents and reports, leaving the hard technical stuff to other people. In fact, he said he hadn’t read the Dream Team’s charrette before it was presented today. That’s a rather amazing admission coming from the man who put the whole thing together. So maybe he listens to whoever the last person was he talked to. Maybe now he’ll get behind this new plan.
There’s one thing I’m sure of: even if the Dream Team’s recommendations are technically compatible with the 3c alignment under federal review, they are philosophically and radically opposed to it. If the mayor really does support Beasley’s vision, if he isn’t going to merely pay lip service to it, then he can demonstrate his sincerity very easily. He can propose that the city withdraw the 3c alignment from review. The Council can vote to do that. Put that on the agenda. He said in his opening remarks that the citizens want to see action. It’s true. Let’s see it.