In a surprising "pivot" in the Trinity toll road saga, Dallas officials have drafted a new design team to give the controversial roadway another pass. Six urban planner types from around the country will form what Mayor Mike Rawlings described as a "dream team" to create a new vision for the Trinity River Project.
Rawlings announced the team on November 19 at a coffee-and-doughnuts session at Babb Bros. BBQ attended by an invite-only group of more than 100 people that included toll road proponents; ex-city staffers such as Mary Suhm; and Dallas City Council members present and past, including Lee Kleinman, Philip Kingston, Scott Griggs and Angela Hunt.
Rawlings apologized to the city council members for the timing, acknowledging that some were pulled away from the National League of Cities conference in Austin, explaining that this was the only opening he could find.
Likely not invited were a handful of protesters outside, dressed in turkey costumes and holding signs that read, "Turkeys for toll roads." They handed out flyers that said, "Turkeys everywhere are proud to stand with Mayor Rawlings."
Rawlings' address took all of 25 minutes; although there were a number of press folks, no questions were taken. It seemed to be an awful lot of trouble just to hand out a list of consultants, who included the following:
- Larry Beasley, retired chief planner for the city of Vancouver
- John Alschuler, a financial and strategic advisor
- Allan Jacobs, an urban design consultant
- Alex Krieger, the Harvard professor who worked on the original design
- Elizabeth Macdonald, urban designer
- Jeff Tumlin, transportation planner
Rawlings said that the funding came from a variety of sources, including Downtown Dallas Inc., Dallas Regional Chamber, Dallas Citizens Council, The Real Estate Council, Stemmons Business Corridor and "anonymous donors."
He also outlined a timeline, beginning with the awarding of a construction contract in early 2015 for the "first staging," which includes the building of three lakes: two on the east side and one on the west.
The Corps of Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration will give the project a "go or no-go" in 2015, at which point the City of Dallas and the NTTA can proceed with design and preparation of construction, assuming that NTTA finds the project financially viable.
"The key thought is that the design is not completed," Rawlings said. "They're currently working on it, but they're not finished. It's an opportunity for an important pivot point to make sure what we are doing is right."
The toll road is facing an avalanche of opposition, with a town hall meeting scheduled for December 3 hosted by State Representative Rafael Anchia, who published a survey in which 93 percent of the respondents said they were opposed.
"I'm not trying to convince the hardcore anti-folks that they're wrong," Rawlings said. "I don't know how they can be opposed to it if they haven't seen it."