Texans, the cliche goes, knows how to do things big. These days that includes vandalizing what could be a 20-mile-long version of Central Park with — what else? — a highway.The Trinity River Project is a $2.2-billion visionary effort by the Trinity Trust, a private advocacy group, to unite the city with its long-neglected river.
The Trust’s plan has begun to turn a sterile landscape of mown grass and power lines in the river floodplain into a chain of recreational ponds and lakes that open downriver into a wildlife-rich forest marshland.
It’s akin to the great parks and parkways that shaped cities across the country or the waterfront that is Chicago’s glory. The river is today all but invisible to citizens, running within massive levees. Only the intrepid can reach it as it passes downtown because a spaghetti of freeway lanes and ramps — aptly named the Mixmaster — walls off city from river, as drivers attempt to navigate the nightmarish collision of five freeways.
This clotted civil-engineering nightmare is not enough for the roadbuilders, however. They want to run another “reliever” tollway parallel to downtown that would run along the river exactly where the Trust hopes to turn throwaway space into a great park and restored natural watercourse. The road would ruin the river for miles.
And for what? Because another project of the Texas Department of Transportation (Txdot locally) now under construction turns two freeways that feed into the Mixmaster from the south into 17-lane behemoths each. That ought to assure downtown gridlock well into the future.
Dallas and Forth Worth are among the most heavily freewayed metro areas, yet epic traffic jams persist even as every few miles you find five-lane carriageways arcing through six-level stack intersections. The senselessness of building more lanes to reach ever-distant suburbs eludes Txdot, as it does local officials, who dabble in light rail that is under-engineered and underused.
But there’s more. Local urban planners have proposed to demolish I-345, a short link in the freeway cordon that strangles downtown Dallas, so that the no-mans-land it has created might get developed and usefully link to vibrant Deep Ellum nearby. Critics of the plan have gotten nasty and havetargeted Dallas Morning News architecture critic Mark Lamster, who probably did not expect to have to develop expertise on collector-distributer ramps and highway-demand statistics.
Yet Txdot, which didn’t deign to engage the 345 teardown until it began to gain momentum, now is ready to horsetrade: Maybe the 345 could come down if the highway in the river gets approved. The two projects bear no relationship to each other so this “deal” is ridiculous on its face.
It’s nice to see cracks in the placid bureaucratic facade of the all-powerful Txdot. Go Mark!
The agency’s also got worries because its running out of money since the state legislature won’t raise the gas tax. It resorts to high-risk private financing for most of its projects, untransparently linked to revenues from toll roads and toll lanes.
That’s how the destruction of what could be Dallas’ crowning glory will be paid for, if the roadbuilder’s giant financial house of cards does not come crashing down.