It’s done. After decades of debate, multiple referendums, millions of dollars spent on plans and campaigns, public relations blitzes, bitter debate, and suspicion, the Dallas City Council voted today to reject plans to build a toll road within the levees of the Trinity River. The vote was 13 in favor of rejecting the so-called Alternative 3C alignment of the toll road, the engineering nomenclature for the design of a multi-lane high speed highway that was the only federally approved design of a plan once sold to voters as a low-impact parkway project. Council members Rickey Callahan and Casey Thomas were the only council members voting in favor of the road.
As with last week’s conversation about the referendum, the only outspoken council member in favor of the road was Callahan, the representative from southeast Dallas and Pleasant Grove, who urged his colleagues to come up with alternative plans for expanding mobility and access to his district. Some of Callahan’s colleagues, however, argued that it was more important to focus on bringing jobs to the southern sector than building more highways.
“There is not a toll road into Bishops Arts, but Bishop Arts is thriving,” Dwaine Caraway said. “There is not a freeway or toll way in [Lancaster Corridor] and Lancaster Corridor is beginning to thrive. The majority of constituents I represent are not as concerned about another toll way as they are about another Trinity Park.”
In what sounded like a last-ditch effort to find some way to save the road, Callahan asked City Attorney Larry Casto how the Council could reject Alternative 3C when there have been two public referendums — in 1998 and again in 2007 — that supported the road. Casto informed the Council that the language in both referendums did not lock the Council into a commitment to develop the road.
“Citizens have never said, ‘thou shall,’” Casto said. “That language is absent in two previous referendums.”
Ironically, the way the controversial 2007 referendum was worded, forcing voters to vote yes to reject the road as a strategy to obstruct the anti-road campaign, ensured that the referendum did not lock the Council into building the road.
Before the record vote, Councilman Philip Kingston spoke about the history of the Trinity River Project and the tendency among civic boosters to carry water for a project even after it evolved into a design that would have been detrimental to the city’s largest natural resource.
“Every now and then, people have bad ideas or an idea that morphs into something that people never wanted,” Kingston said. “It takes a long time for people to process those facts. We’ve wasted millions of dollars on plans. … The level of intellectual energy of some of the best leaders in town would not have been wasted for the last 10 years. What could have been still captivates me. But today is a wonderful day.”
At the end of the vote, Councilwoman Sandy Greyson congratulated former council member Angela Hunt, who led the 2007 anti-toll road referendum campaign and was instrumental in orchestrating the effort to finally vote to reject Alternative 3C.
“Here we are today, almost exactly 10 years later, and if this is anyone’s day, it is Angela Hunt’s day,” Greyson said to applause in the chamber.
As of this posting, the Council is now debating the legal language surrounding the creation of a Limited Government Corporation to take over development, operation, and maintenance of the proposed Trinity River park.