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Dallas Mayor Wants To Reinvent The Controversial Trinity Parkway

BJ Austin
Protesters in seasonal dress call the proposed Trinity toll road a turkey of a project. They were stationed outside the mayor's announcement that a team of outside engineers and urban planners would re-imagine the design of the proposed Trinity Parkway.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings made a "come together’" plea Wednesday morning regarding the Trinity Parkway.

Over coffee and donuts, the mayor asked more than 100 people to join his effort to re-imagine the controversial Trinity Parkway – the nine-mile toll road planned for inside the Trinity River levees above the proposed parks and lakes. Reaction to the mayor’s invitation was mixed.

Fans and foes of the Trinity toll road packed into Babb Brothers Barbeque in West Dallas at the foot of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. They came to hear the mayor announce a dream team of engineers and urban planners that will suggest design changes aimed at improving the parkway.    

Council member Vonciel Jones Hill says the mayor has the right idea to move the parkway along because voters have approved it.   

“Not once, but twice.  And we have moved forward on that," Hill said. "I don’t know why people continue to talk about are you for or against that question has been decided. We are now at the execution phase.”

Former council colleague Angela Hunt says the mayor’s effort is 11th-hour window dressing.

“The design of this road is set. It’s been submitted to the federal government. We know the size of the road. We know how deeply it digs into the park," Hunt said. "And so the idea that we can suddenly redesign this thing is really disingenuous at best.”

Rawlings told the crowd no big project in Dallas ever got done without a big fight. He lists D/FW International Airport, DART and the convention center hotel as examples.  Rawlings says he wants to tone it down with the Trinity roll road, using this new design process to do that.

“Personally I need something I can see that might become a reality," Rawlings said. "Why not treat this project with an option that’s a sense of the possible versus assuming the worst in everyone’s vision?"  

Rawlings says the team will look at what he calls creative options for transportation infrastructure and connecting to the Trinity parks and lakes, downtown and nearby neighborhoods. Private donations will pay for the work. Former Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm, among those putting together the design team, says the cost will probably be in the hundreds of thousands. Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs wants more specifics.

“I think the people have the right to know who’s donating the money," Griggs said. "We heard a number of comments about anonymous donors.  So who’s paying and how much, and what are they being charged to do with that money?"

Griggs calls the Trinity Parkway a $1.5 billion boondoggle that’s not needed.

Former Dallas council member David Neumann, who lost his council seat to Griggs in 2011, disagrees.

“I’ve been a supporter of the Trinity River Corridor Project for years, and in particular the Trinity Parkway because I think it fuses together our downtown, our western neighbors, and our eastern neighbors and I think that’s very important,” Neumann said.

Design work begins next month. Public hearings are set for early next year. That’s about the same time the city expects final federal approval of the toll road’s environmental impact study. If that and other federal approvals come in, the North Texas Tollway Authority still has to decide if a toll road along the Trinity River is financially feasible some 16 years after voters first approved it.  

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.