A Totally Boring 9-Minute Recording From Today’s Meeting of the Regional Transportation Council

Seriously, if you spend one minute reading this post — especially if you take the time to listen to the audio — then you really need to reevaluate your life, figure out where everything went so pear shaped that you had the time and interest to dive into this. That said, here’s your prep guide for the audio that I recorded today out in Arlington at the HQ of the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Tom Vandergriff Conference Center (decor theme: gray on gray). First, you need to know that cupcakes were served, on account of the NCTCOG’s 40th birthday. Keep that in mind. Second, I loitered in the NCTCOG lobby before the meeting and spotted not one, but two gentleman attendees wearing cowboy hats. In other words: my kind of meeting. I stayed for about 25 minutes, just the part where they discussed I-345. I’m only going to give you the highlights. Okay, here’s what you’ll hear:

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How Badly Does TxDOT Want the North Texas Vote?

The controversy over I-345 — and how TxDOT and its local partner, Michael Morris have handled it — could not come at a worse time for the highway agency. On the ballot in November is a constitutional amendment to increase the agency’s funding by $1.25 billion a year by drawing down on the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

The Legislature only granted this small amount after considerable wrangling. The agency by its own account needs an additional $4.5 billion a year just to keep up with the state’s population growth. But legislators are just as wary of the agency’s obfuscations, wild estimates, changing stories, alarmist traffic simulations, and bungling public relations as Dallas leaders in the last two months have learned to be.

Yet those same Dallas leaders say the agency needs every dollar it can get. Texas is exploding in population, roads are already inadequate, and cutbacks to maintenance could have severe economic consequences. So why is TxDOT — like a lumbering elephant — walking all over Dallas right when it needs our votes?

Now might be a good time for the Texas Transportation Commission, whose five members are probably more politically astute than highway engineers, to get that elephant under control. TxDOT seems to have a talent for alienating legislators. If it alienates North Texas, it could lose its only chance for new funding. That would be tragedy not just for the agency but for Texas.

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What Does South Dallas Think About Highways? Let’s Ask a ‘Militant’ Black Leader.

In the discussion about possibly tearing down I-345, the Dallas Morning News editorial board and its partner, Michael Morris of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, have come to the defense of the working poor in South Dallas. At the paper, Rodger Jones writes about “economic justice,” and Tod Robberson tells us that lowering I-345 would throw the lives of South Dallas commuters into “upheaval.” Morris says only rich white people are interested in tearing down the elevated freeway. Let’s see about that.

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Leading Off (4/4/14)

Storms Pummel Denton and Collin Counties. Last night as the weather rolled through, tornadoes were spotted, cars and buildings were damaged, Twitter feeds were filled with photos of huge chunks of hail, and most of the “G.I. Joe” episode of Community was preempted by nonstop meteorology. So, yes, the damage was severe.

SMU Loses NIT Championship Game. Though the Mustangs led by seven points with about six minutes left, they fell to Minnesota, 65-63, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. “We didn’t handle prosperity very well,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “We had some terrible turnovers in the guts of the game.”

Transportation Official Says Poor Left Out of I-345 Debate. Michael Morris of the North Central Texas Council of Governments claims the voices of minorities have been missing from the discussion over the future of a stretch of road that connects U.S. Highway 75 and Interstates 30 and 35 in downtown Dallas. Morris says proponents of the effort to remove the highway are white, wealthy, and they don’t live in the neighborhood. Urban planner Patrick Kennedy, who’s spearheaded the effort, said his group is beginning to reach out to South Dallas neighborhoods to discuss their ideas for the corridor. NCTCOG released estimates Thursday that two-thirds of the 200,000 daily trips on the road are coming from or driving to somewhere in Dallas.

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Rodger Jones: Bad Editorial Writer, Masterful Shill For TxDOT

Dallas Morning News editorial writer Rodger Jones has taken time out of his busy schedule of taking world-weary selfies to write about the efforts to tear down Interstate 345. The first one — “Is I-345 teardown idea a chance to finance the Trinity River toll road?” — was a little safari to the magical land where paper tigers roam free, asking a question no one was asking, then answering it in a sort of confusing and terrible way, ending with him saying that the idea no one was talking about was a bad one because it would force commuters to take a toll road instead of a free route, and how dare anyone actually consider it, even though no one actually seems to be. He finished by pounding on the podium: “It’s called economic justice.”

But that one was actually OK! At least in comparison to his latest one: “Why doesn’t the S.M. Wright freeway teardown get urbanist publicity?” Our friend and occasional D Magazine contributor Patrick Kennedy tears down Jones’ central argument quicker and more efficiently than TxDOT got rid of S.M. Wright Freeway right here. I am only an amateur urban planner, but I also have some thoughts. The main one is: Rodger Jones is 100-percent shilling for TxDOT. Look here:

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Mayor Mike Rawlings Says I -345 Must Be Repaired Before It Can Be Removed

The mayor released this statement last evening regarding the proposed removal I-345:

I have participated in several discussions over the last few weeks with local business leaders, concerned citizens and the Texas Department of Transportation about the status of I-345.

While I remain undecided about the proposal to tear down the highway, I am convinced that repairing it is necessary before any decision is made about the future of I-345.

I learned that canceling or postponing renovations will increase safety concerns for travelers on the highway, and I refuse to compromise the safety of our citizens for any idea, regardless of its merit.

It is also important to understand that tearing down I-345 would be very expensive, with TxDOT estimating a cost of approximately $1.9 billion to fund demolition and associated street and bridge improvements. And it’s a time-consuming process as well. Similar projects have taken up to 10 years to complete.

Patrick Kennedy is skeptical:

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Highways Are Bleeding Dallas. So Why Are You Surprised We Want to Kill One?

Maybe you love your car. Maybe you love driving. Maybe you love the highways that allow you to have your big home in a lovely neighborhood miles and miles (and maybe even miles more) from downtown. Maybe you even love your commute, getting to spend a couple hours each day listening to the latest Radiolab podcast or working your way through the Game of Thrones audiobooks or whatever. Bully for you. Those of us who live in and care about the city’s central core are generally happy to let you be. We don’t tread on you, not normally.

Except now. You’re killing us. You and your neighbors in the Stonehollow Creek Meadow on Townlake Castle Village II subdivision. I’ll let Patrick Kennedy explain:

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Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth Mayors Announce Support For High-Speed Rail

“This innovative project is a game changer for transportation between the two engines that drive job creation throughout Texas,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth.”

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I-345 Panel Discussion Set for Thursday

Now First United Methodist Church is getting in on the act. On Thursday, Patrick Kennedy from A New Dallas will lead a panel discussion on “bringing investment to downtown and the surrounding disadvantaged areas.” Translation: tearing down I-345. Other panelists include the Dallas Morning News‘ architecture critic Mark Lamster, CitySquare’s Larry James and Gerald Britt, and BC Workshop’s Mark Lea. The “Let’s Do Lunch!” event runs from 11:30-1. Pompeii and Cup Cakin’ Machine food trucks will be on site, and the conversation will take place in the Fiedler Atrium.

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Leading Off (3/24/14)

I-345 Tear-Down Debate Continues. The Dallas Morning News ran this I-345 explainer on the front page of the Sunday paper. There’s no new news here, but it does provide a bit of I-345 history, namely that it was built in 1974 as suburbs like Irving took hold. There was also a nice traffic count graphic in the paper, but that didn’t make it online. To refresh, some 200,000 cars travel the 1.4-mile stretch on weekdays. Patrick Kennedy and co. want the 75-45 connector eliminated, but TxDOT is set to spend $100 million to renovate it instead. As is to be expected, and can be demonstrated here, debate persists, some of it well-reasoned, some … not.

Plastic Bag Ban Proposal Up For a Vote Wednesday. Dwaine Caraway has been working on this for a year and is expecting a partial ban, at the very least, to pass when City Council votes Wednesday. There are a number of options up for discussion, including a total citywide ban, a “responsible retailer” option that charges stores for distributing the bags, and an “environmental fee” that has customers paying for bags. Several council members are vehemently opposed to any change.

Bike Share Program a Possibility for Fair Park. The Dallas Park and Recreation Board has approved $125,000 for the project. If City Council passes it, some 15-20 bikes could appear in Fair Park by May. This is an impossibly small (yet expensive) program. For comparison, Fort Worth started with a $1 million grant, 300 bikes and 30 stations.

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Leading Off (3/17/14)

City Council Members Upset Mayor Rawlings Doesn’t Consult Them. Alternative headlines: “Mayor Mike Rawlings Hard at Work on Several Initiatives” or “Mayor in Desperate Need of Better PR Team.” Tip: Inform council members of plans before media inquiries, avoid much of these issues.

SMU Not Headed to NCAA Tournament. Some 1,000 people gathered in Moody Coliseum for Selection Sunday, anticipating SMU’s entrance into the tournament for the first time in two decades. But the 23-9 Mustangs never got called. There’s all kinds of speculation as to why they won’t appear (bad losses at the end of the season, their American Athletic Conference affiliation), but the team will be a No. 1 seed in the NIT.

TxDOT Officials Claim They Spend More on Repairing Roads than Study States. A report released this month from Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense alleges that the Texas Department of Transportation spent 82 percent of its $3.4 billion budget between 2009 and 2011 on expanding roads rather than maintaining them. Another Smart Growth report has TxDOT spending just 11 percent of its budget between 2004 and 2008 on maintenance and repair, but officials maintain that number was closer to 35 percent.

Trimble Tech Group Holds Vigil for Local SXSW Victims. Tech senior Curtisha Davis and her boyfriend, 2013 Tech grad Deandre Tatum, both remain hospitalized in Austin after sustaining injuries in the crash that killed two and injured more than 20. A small group of parents, friends, and Tech alumni gathered on the school’s steps Sunday night to pray for the victims.

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Leading Off (3/10/14)

Wylie Teens Found “Burying a Body.” Two 16-year-old Wylie East High School students were charged with first-degree murder Sunday in the killing of  Ivan Mejia, a fellow Wylie classmate. Mejia was 17. Police claim the two juveniles killed Mejia Saturday and were found near the woods in Garland around 9:30 p.m. When asked what they were doing, they allegedly responded, “burying a body.” Police say the murder was planned, though no motive has been released.

Keller Man on Missing Malaysian Airlines Flight. Philip Wood, an IBM exec who was moving to Kuala Lumpur from Beijing, was one of 239 aboard the flight. He had recently visited family in North Texas. There is still little understanding of what happened to the plane, and according to the New York Times, the mysteries are multiplying.

Grand Prairie Park-and-Ride Lot Under Construction, No Public Transportation Nearby. Soon, Grand Prairie will unveil a $14.7 million facility for … carpoolers. Because, yes, in a city that loves its cars what everyone will want to do is commute together. There’s even talk of developing an app to connect complete strangers who would like to share their ride. That’s often called a bus. Or Lyft. But hey, best of luck!

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Leading Off (3/3/14)

Can Dallas ISD Turn Into a Home-Rule District? Technically, yes, because of a 1995 state law. And the group Support Our Public Schools is trying to do it. On Tuesday, petitioners will meet Dallasites at the primary polls, looking to collect nearly 25,000 signatures. With the necessary signatures, the proposal could get on the ballot as early as November. No specific changes are on the table yet beyond the home-rule proposal, which would allow DISD to largely operate separate of state control. It would be the first district in the state to do so.

Part of Sylvan Thirty Burns Down. The West Dallas project was engulfed in flames (video) Saturday afternoon, setting off a two-alarm fire allegedly started by someone welding inside. The two-story building, the remnants of which will now be torn down, was going to house a yoga studio and a restaurant as one part of the $50 million project.

Steve Blow: Stop It. Just Stop It. It looks like he’s talking to us, all of you in the comments section, and certainly Patrick Kennedy. We all need to stop talking about tearing down I-345 because, “It’s never, ever, not-in-a-million-years going to happen.” Okay then.

Today Could Be the Coldest Day of the Season. That’s according to meteorologist Jesse Moore. Schools are closed, there’s a wind chill advisory until 8 a.m., and it’s cold. Very cold. Stay safe out there. More updates here.

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Leading Off (2/24/14)

DART Contract Up For Extension. MV Transportation’s two-year pilot period will come to an end in September, but some DART staffers insist the contract should be re-opened for other bids. MV operates a fleet of paratransit vehicles that service the elderly and disabled. Some allege that since MV took over from Veolia Transportation in 2012, there have been problems. MV has even been fined some $335,000 for performance issues. Still, some board members insist there isn’t enough time to accept new bids. The contract is expected to be extended Tuesday.

Despite Felony, Constable Running For His Old Job. Who says a felony holds you back? Not this guy. Derick Evans is actively campaigning for his former Dallas County constable Precinct 1 position, the one he was removed from after he was convicted of running illegal raffles. Two federal lawsuits are also pending against the county from when Evans held the constable position, and he was accused of a vehicle-towing scam.

The Fascinating Tale of Eric Brauss. It’s not so fascinating for those who say he scammed them out of millions, but the Dallas Morning News details the rise and fall of the Dallas-based developer who eventually fled to Brazil and died last late last year, though some believe that’s just another part of his scheme to evade prosecution.

Times Criticized for Wendy Davis Cover.  Last week, I pointed you to The New York Times Magazine’s profile of Wendy Davis. This week, the Times’ public editor responds to complaints alleging sexism in the story.

Westbound Lanes of LBJ Closed After Fatal A.M. Accident. Be careful out there during your morning commute.

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