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The Role Of The Controversial Trinity Toll Road In Dallas Council Elections
Rendering of proposed Trinity Parkway, a planned toll road inside the river levees and above the proposed Trinity River parks and trails.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is set to unveil new recommendations for the controversial Trinity Toll Road today. And the Dallas City Council will discuss the suggestions in a special meeting Thursday afternoon. The divisive project is having an impact on the May City Council elections.

The proposed toll road inside the levees along the Trinity River has spawned the first-ever grassroots PAC, created to back candidates in a Dallas City Council election, including the mayor’s race.

The Dallas Green Alliance chose the Trinity toll road issue to launch its fundraising.

“We wanted sort of a grassroots, home grown voice in politics," Cherelle Blazer, who chairs the steering committee, said. "I’d be in a lot of different circles and I’d hear people talk about the same kinds of things, how they wanted sustainability; how they weren’t really liking the idea of spending all of this money – or wasting all of that money – on a toll road.”

There are six open council seats and a contested mayor’s race on the ballot. Dallas Green Alliance wants to elect at least four anti-toll road candidates. That would create a majority of eight, enough to kill the project by voting to remove it from the city’s transportation plan.

Longtime Dallas campaign volunteer Janice Schwarz sees the Trinity toll road as the key issue in the 2015 council elections.   

“So many people, Republican, Democrat, Independent they’re all against the toll road," Schwarz said.  "It runs across all party lines for different reasons.”

Those reasons range from environmental objections to those who just don’t want another toll road.  

Outgoing city council member Vonciel Jones Hill say the Trinity toll road should not even be an issue since Dallas voters approved it in 1998 and again in 2007.

“I believe that this entire discussion is a spin by people who lost the referendum but refuse to concede that Dallas needs to move forward on a project that has been approved by the voters,” Hill said.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings doesn’t see the project driving the election.

“I’m not feeling that at the grassroots level." Rawlings said. "I think inside baseball, it definitely is. But, not what I’m polling out there.  Not what I’m listening to citizens.  They care about their family, safety, economic growth. Safety’s number one.”

Rawlings says traffic congestion is high on the list and must be solved. He says the Trinity toll road could reduce Dallas Mixmaster traffic by 3-5 percent, saving drivers fuel and hours spent in gridlock.

From his law office, mayoral challenger Marcos Ronquillo says a toll road is not needed. He and other voters want to spend that money on basic city services, like filling potholes and maintaining alleys.  

“You know rather than look at these big ticket type projects, just go back to, you know, basic services," Ronquillo said. "And so I think that’s what’s driving … it’s not so much a toll road whether we need one or want one. It’s kind of what the toll road actually represents in terms of urban planning and new thought patterns with respect to transportation.”

The latest campaign finance reports filed last week show Rawlings raised five times more money in the first three months of the year than Ronquillo.

Dallas Green Alliance has raised more than $20,000 to help fund city council campaigns.  Cherelle Blazer says that may not seem like a lot, but it’s making a big statement. Campaign volunteer Janice Schwarz   hopes the new PAC elevates the importance of city council races.

“I certainly hope so," Schwarz said. "I certainly hope people wake up and realize how important these city council races are.”

Municipal elections traditionally draw turnouts of under 10 percent.  Early voting starts April 27. Election Day is May 9. 

The Trinity Toll Road is the subject on Think Wednesday, April 15 at 1 p.m. You’ll hear pros and cons of the project from architect Robert Meckfessel and from Michael Morris, Director of Transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Email your questions to 

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.