A Road Will Run Through It

The current Trinity parkway design misses the mark. But the answer is to fix it, not can it.

I was driving back to the office the other day on the Dallas North Tollway after having listened to Angela Hunt speak against the design of the Trinity parkway. The speed limit on the Tollway is 55 mph, and I was doing 70. Looking at the six lanes of concrete over which I was speeding, it dawned on me that Hunt is right. The engineers want to build a Dallas North Tollway down the middle of the Trinity floodplain.

It is not going to happen. And it doesn’t matter whether Angela Hunt gets her referendum or not.

Two months prior to the 1998 Trinity bond election, consultants for the Texas Department of Transportation issued an advisory on the proposed road. It envisioned an “eight-lane split parkway with controlled access and a design speed of 50 mph with a posted speed of 45 mph … constructed as a lower-speed parkway design rather than a freeway design, allowing left turn exits towards the river floodway.”

How did this parkway become the Dallas North Tollway? Three things happened. On being elected mayor, Laura Miller led a rethinking of the entire project. The resulting “balanced design” plan was a big improvement. It put the parkway on the downtown side so that Oak Cliff could better develop its side. With no split, the road was cut from eight to six lanes, with the City Council’s instruction that its design be “context sensitive.” Then, last year, the Army Corps of Engineers, under attack after Katrina, imposed new flood standards for the levees and said the road could not cut into the levee structure.

But the real damage was self-inflicted. Someone let the engineers from TxDOT, the North Texas Tollway Authority, and the city of Dallas meet alone to plan the parkway. What happens when traffic engineers meet alone? They create the most efficient plan possible. What is the most efficient plan possible? Fast cars, and lots of them. “Context sensitive” is not in their lexicon.

But the original election language was clear. The City Council was clear. The engineers muffed the job.

If Angela Hunt is right about the parkway, Laura Miller is right about Hunt’s proposed referendum. The idea that we will either have a park or a tollway is a deceitful ploy, and Hunt knows it. The parkway must be built. Dallas desperately needs a reliever route for the Stemmons mixmaster. The Trinity is the only place to build it. (Even Hunt hasn’t been able to come up with an alternative.) The entire Trinity project is premised on the federal money the parkway attracts. Without the parkway, the whole project could collapse.

To sign Hunt’s petition calling for a referendum is to aim a wrecking ball at the largest public works project in Dallas history. It is also unnecessary. What is necessary is to lock the traffic engineers in a room and tell them not to come out until they have a parkway the entire city can embrace.

Egocentrics make bad listeners and good populists. Because they won’t listen to facts, the facts never get in their way. I don’t know what it says about Dallas that we have produced two such women in one short decade. But let’s give Angela Hunt and Laura Miller their due. Each has made herself a royal pain over this project, and each could leave a lasting legacy—the Trinity River done right.

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