Friday, January 27, 2023 Jan 27, 2023
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making water worK

By D Magazine |

FOR YEARS, the Trinity River has been the most divisive and dividing issue that Dallas has faced. The wide expanse of vacant space has been a geographical and figurative separation between Dallas and South Dallas, between black and white.

Finally, after studies and workshops and work groups and town meetings and presentations and briefings, the city has come to a consensus on what to do with the Trinity River Corridor.

What makes this plan different from those that were shelved in the past? The breadth. Current plans for the corridor include flood damage protection, traffic relief, environmental concerns, recreational usage, and economic opportunity. Finally, Dallas has a plan that people can trust and support.

“For 75 years we’ve found ways to say no,” says Mayor Ron Kirk. “And now we have to have the courage to say yes.”

Of course, the most important aspect of the Trinity is protection against floods. The Dallas Floodway Extension, a joint project of the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will develop a 1,400-acre “chain of wetlands,” where standing water allows for a slick rush-out when water levels rise. The DFE also calls for protective levees 20-21 feet in height along Lamar Street and Cadillac Heights. The level of protection for the 400 existing structures in the Central Business District will rise from the 300-year event to the Standard Project Rood (800-year event).

The Elm Fork Levee, also a joint project, calls for a 6-mile levee of 15-18 feet in height extending generally along Luna Road. The system will provide Standard Project Flood Protection to 800 acres of flood plain within the Stemmons North Industrial District, including 600 existing structures, the combined value of which totals more than $700 million.

Levees have been the subject of scrutiny. Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended the levees-just as they recommended a $300 million levee project in Grand Rapids, Mich.-sensationalist images of massive floods make people distrustful of their effectiveness. Still, one of the first questions that people ask Craig Holcomb, chairman of (he Trinity River Corridor Citizens Committee is, *’Do levees really work?”

“The truth is that levees are working all over the country,” he says. “I don’t mean to blame the media, but no one is going to watch footage on television of levees working.”

Holcomb’s point of view on the project is sympathetic to the communities involved and mindful of Dallas overall. As a former City Council member from 1983-89, he understands the importance of building the city’s tax base. The Trinity River Corridor is a vast expanse of green space, potentially spawning economic development and creating a new destination for people all over the city.

Flood damage protection certainly is a major concern, but the Trinity River Corridor threatens the city in a far more immediate, tangible way: traffic. Currently, about 250,000 cars pass through the Canyon and the Mixmaster daily, Rush hour is six hours out of every day, and the average speed is 20 miles per hour. Sandy Wesch-Schulze from the Texas Department of Transportation says if nothing is done, commuters in 2020 can anticipate eight or nine hours of congestion-and that’s without taking accidents into account.

Voters waiting for TxDOT to swoop into town and solve all of their problems had best not hold their breath. The statewide organization has funding for only about 33 percent of the projects that need to be done. Texas is a big state and Dallas has to wait in line like everyone else.

“How does that saying go?” recalls TxDOT District Public Information Officer Mark Ball. ’To find the helping hand look at the end of your arm.”

Which is not to say that TxDOT isn’t involved. Wesch-Schulze says they have recognized the massive problem that is the Mix-master, and after an extensive Major Transportation Investment Study, TxDOT proposed the Trinity Parkway, with six to eight lanes divided on both sides of the river, intended to ease traffic flow.

If the city ponies up $246 million toward the project, state and federal funds will pay the additional $953 million to cover the major implementation of the Parkway road, the chain of wetlands, the chain of lakes, and money toward the Great Trinity Forest Master Plan. “[City contribution] moves the project that much faster,” says Ball. In a City Council briefing, director of the Trinity River Corridor Project Peter Vargas described the parameters of the agreement. City financial participation would reduce the TxDOT construction schedule from 23-30 years down to 15 years.

What originally began as measures for flood damage protection and traffic congestion relief have been integrated into a broader project, involving the Great Trinity Forest and Trinity Trails. City Council has already approved the Great Trinity Forest Master Plan Concept, which outlined a 20-year park and trail development plan, as well as an application to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department for boat and canoe launch ramps.

Austin has Town Lake. San Antonio has the River Walk. Until now, Dallas has been embarrassed to have the Trinity. Of course, no other city has the exact same conditions and concerns as Dallas, but our proposed waterfront development is not happening in a vacuum. Business is up for Hargreaves Associates, a San Francisco-based landscape architecture firm that has several projects in various stages of development. Cities like Boston, Kansas City, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; and Tulsa, Okla. have proven that urban waterfront development beautifies and invigorates a city.

The bond election is more than dollars and cents, just as a plan for a city is more than bricks and mortar. To approve the bond is to show confidence and enthusiasm for Dallas. To adopt (he Trinity River Corridor Plan is to take care of the river that unites us and get rid of the one that divides us.