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How The Trinity Toll Road Might Save Dallas' Levee System - Or Have No Effect At All

Rendering of proposed Trinity Parkway, a planned toll road inside the river levees and above the proposed Trinity River parks and trails.

The debate over the proposed Trinity Toll Road has focused mostly on traffic and cost. Wednesday on Think, Krys Boyd talked with a toll road supporter and detractor about those sticking points. And they also got into a lesser-talked about element of the project – how it would affect the city’s levee system.

The park that’s part of the proposed Trinity development project includes a series of lakes. And the idea is that the dirt that’s excavated to form those lakes could be used to construct a bench – the built-up land for the road that would run alongside the park.

“These benches reinforce the northern and eastern levee [and] would be an example of how transportation is helping both recreation and flood control," said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments and a supporter of the toll road. "As you head downstream near downtown, the hopefully staged four-lane roadway would go under the existing historical structures, and as a result you would build a retaining wall to protect both the roadway and the levee.”

Robert Meckfessel, an architect with DSGN Associates, disputes the claim.

“I have to disagree with Michael about the fact that the bench makes the city side – the downtown-side levees – safer somehow. If that’s the case, then we should go build a toll road on the Oak Cliff and the West Dallas side to make those safer," he said. "After the flood-control improvements are completed – most of which are already done – we will be completely safe with or without this toll road.”

Actually, an additional road west of downtown was considered.

“One of the options was to build a facility on both sides – and lots of evaluation went in to those particular decisions," Morris said. "Some of us felt that transportation crossing the whole floodway twice – once to get to the south and west side and once to get all the way back – was too intrusive.”

The Dallas City Council will meet tomorrow to discuss the recommendations presented earlier this week by Larry Beasley and other city planners.

Meckfessel says their discussion should center on one thing.

“The dirt from the lakes can be used to build the bench," he said. "But the nature of the road that goes on top of that bench – whether it’s a high-speed tollway or a park-access road that truly enhances the park experience – is what the debate is really about here.”

Listen to the podcast.

Stephen Becker is senior producer of the Think show , which airs on more than 25 stations across Texas and beyond. Prior to joining the Think team in 2013, as part of the Art&Seek team, Stephen produced radio and digital stories and hosted "The Big Screen" — a weekly radio segment about North Texas film — with Chris Vognar. His 2011 story about the history of eight-track tapes was featured nationally on NPR's All Things Considered. His works has been recognized with numerous state and national awards.