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Dallas evaluates progress on previous bond issues

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Dallas, TX –

Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 reporter: Neighborhood activist Sharon Boyd thinks the city deceived Dallas voters in 1998. That's when the public approved 246 million dollars in bonds to improve the Trinity River.

Sharon Boyd: We voted for parks, and water areas, and amphitheaters and jogging tracks, all kinds of activities along the Trinity. We voted for cleaning up the Trinity so that all these other amenities could be in the area, and controlling it. We never got to vote on those Trinity bridges. The bridges came later.

Cuellar: But former Dallas city councilman Craig Holcomb, who chairs the Trinity River Commons foundation, says bond money has been spent on items promised in the bond package.

Craig Holcomb: We said we would improve flood protection for the city. Some of the wetlands are already open. Others are under construction. And we are improving the levees. We said we would have recreation areas and a park. We're buying more land for the great Trinity Forest. We will have traffic improvements with the Trinity Parkway. All of those things are happening.

Cuellar: But construction costs are rising. So, the city is working with the Trinity Trust, a group of private donors, to raise an additional 150 million dollars. Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm says that unlike most bond packages, which are executed in three to five years, the city knew the Trinity program would take 10 to 15 years because it combines local, state, and federal dollars as well as private money - and all these funds are available on different schedules.

Mary Suhm, Dallas City Manager: It will be a complex long program to get done. We knew that to begin with. And there are some situations in the Trinity project that cost of materials and doing the projects have exceeded the amount of money we have scheduled for that project. And what we do in that case is we go back and do what we call value engineering.

Cuellar: Or, cutting costs. That's the case with the signature bridges designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

Suhm: We had a long drainage pipe taking water off the bridge that was not visible that was made out of steel. We can do that with PVC pipe instead of steel and that's considerably cheaper.

Cuellar: It's unclear if redesigns and cheaper materials can compensate for rising construction costs. But Suhm is happy to report that most bond packages in recent memory are on track.

Suhm: For the last 3 bond programs, the '95 bond program is 99% complete or on-schedule, '98 is 98% complete or on schedule, and the '03 is 90% complete or on schedule. So there are a few projects from those bond programs left, but mostly we're through with that work and it's time to start another one.

Cuellar: Sharon Boyd agrees.

Boyd: We've got to get this done. That's why it's so important that the voters don't compare past disappointments to this bond package. That they know the essentials. Yes, The Trinity project is hidden in a lot of things that are in this bond package unfortunately. But fortunately much of the bond package are absolute essentials that will better our lives and that they intend to get working on immediately. So this is not going to be a pie in the sky. This is a real meat and potatoes type bond package compared to some of the ones we've had in the past.

Cuellar: This afternoon, the city of Dallas kicks off its campaign for the November bond package.
For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar