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Will Texas Central Partners Manage to Quell Rural Opposition to the High-Speed Rail?

Last week Texas Central Partners, the company behind the effort to build a high-speed rail link between Houston and Dallas, announced a slate of open house informational meetings about the project. The locations of those meetings – Ennis, Corsicana, Mexia, Cypress, Jewett, Teague, and Waller – say everything about where opposition to the project originates.

After all, if you don’t live near either of the end terminus points of the rail, there’s not really much in the project for you outside of a new piece of infrastructure running through your county. Most of the concerns about the project that have come up in rural Texas relate to the impact the railway may have on the land, including interrupting deer hunting, the movement of livestock, potential for noise, and eminent domain.

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What Can We Learn About the Trinity River Project From Yesterday’s Dallas City Council Meeting?

Purely as a piece of political theater, yesterday’s Dallas City Council meeting had something for everyone. There were surprising plot twists, contentious debates, great dialogue, and even moments of hilarious buffoonery. What started as a presentation of the plan the mayor’s urban design “Dream Team” created for the Trinity River morphed into a workshopping of byzantine parliamentary procedure.

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Quick Recap of Yesterday’s Council Meeting

You’re probably a very busy person doing very busy person things. You probably weren’t able to devote the time and attention to yesterday’s meeting regarding the Trinity parkway/toll road/albatross/never-ending story. Short version: the council is forming a committee to see if the city can maybe someday possibly at least a little bit incorporate at least some of what Scott Griggs has now named The Beasley Plan. That committee is stacked with toll road supporters and led by a toll road supporter.

Short version of that:

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Dear Dallas City Council: Please Learn from the Trinity Mistakes of the Past

Today at 1 p.m. the Dallas City Council will convene a special meeting to discuss the latest plans for the Trinity River Project. The plans were developed by the mayor’s so-called “Dream Team” task force, a group of some of the best urban thinkers in North America who revealed a vision Tuesday of a “gracious and harmonious parkway” for the Trinity.

On the agenda is a resolution that will create “a team, including regional and State agencies and professionals, from appropriate disciplines, to determine any actions that would be necessary to implement the findings of the Trinity Design Charrette.”

There is every reason to believe that that group will not be able to realize the Dream Team’s vision because of the reality of the funding, flood control, and environmental requirements already written into the DNA of the Trinity River Project as it is conceived today.

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Three Things That Must Happen if Mayor Rawlings Is Serious About His Dream Team’s Trinity Plan

I just got back from the Trinity Commons Foundation annual luncheon during which urban planner Larry Beasley revealed the details of the so-called urban design Dream Team’s plan for rethinking the controversial Trinity Toll Road. Details of the plans are now available online here. Tim will be along to fill in on some details of what went down at he luncheon, and I need a little time to digest it all.

But here’s a one line takeaway: What Beasley essentially presented was a reversion to — and, you could argue, improvement of — the Balanced Vision Plan. No highway. No trucks. No exit ramps flying in every direction. No ugly wall. Just a meandering parkway that provides access to the park and facilitates through-city traffic. Also, no details on how this vision will fit into any funding scheme, or how it meshes with the federal environmental review (Beasley claims it fits snugly, but I’m not immediately convinced), or how heartily Michael Morris chuckled with maniacal laughter when he saw such a quaint vision of a road paraded out in the place of massive highway he wants to fit into his massive regional highway system.

But leaving the luncheon, scratching my head a bit, and wondering with Tim if his initial assessment was correct, that there’s no way the mayor could have ever expected Beasley’s team to recommend Morris’ vision,  I couldn’t help but fixate on the fact that we’ve been here before.

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How City Staff and Toll Road-Backers Misled Mayor Mike Rawlings

As Tim pointed out in Leading Off, there is some tremendous reporting in the Dallas Morning News today from transportation writer Brandon Formby. In his article, Formby lays out the entire chronology of the efforts by former City Manager Mary Suhm and Trinity Commons Foundation Executive Director Craig Holcomb to save the Trinity Toll Road project in the face of mounting opposition. The report comes ahead of today’s private luncheon reveal of the so-called Dream Team’s reworked vision for the road.

The piece pulls back the curtain on just how power brokers have pressed their influence on the mayor, rallying financial support for the pro-road effort, editing his op-eds, counseling him with misinformation or half-truths about the essential features of the road, and coming up with the idea of the dream team and setting the parameters of that groups’ deliberations.

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Michael Morris: Flood Protection Is ‘Most Critical Benefit’ Of Trinity Toll Road

Michael Morris, the transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, is the latest to write an opinion piece about the Trinity toll road for the Morning News. He has previously written or said most of what the piece contains. It mostly notable because he is hitting the “OH MY GOD WHAT ABOUT FLOODS??!1?” part much harder than before.

First paragraph: “Three items about the Trinity Parkway project are critical to remember. First, it is part of the Balanced Vision Plan that has five parts — not four. Second, we are planning for the next 25-plus years, and the region has added, and will continue to add, 1 million people per decade. And third, the most critical benefit of the Trinity Parkway is flood protection.”

Second paragraph: “Eliminating transportation from the corridor would ignore demographic change and eliminate flood protection benefits, and therefore it would be a mistake.”

Third paragraph: “The Trinity Parkway project is a component of the Balanced Vision Plan that includes improvements for flood protection, recreation, environmental restoration, economic development and mobility. The roadway also is an important element that complements and enhances all other components.”

In other words: “Hm, now that everyone is aware of the fact that this road is completely unnecessary — and actually probably pretty harmful — as far as reducing congestion goes, maybe we need it because of flood protection? How does that sound?” Kind of like they’re making it up as they go along.

The rest of Morris’ piece is a master class in throwing out scary numbers with no sourcing and hoping those scary numbers scare you sufficiently. Anyway, while I’m here, I’d like to break down one other sentence.

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Angela Hunt Explains When She’ll Run For Dallas Mayor

Former city councilwoman, and persistent fly in the Dallas Citizens Council’s ointment, Angela Hunt stopped by the Old Monk yesterday afternoon to chat with Tim and Zac on D Magazine’s EarBurner podcast about her future political prospects, recent setbacks for proponents of the Trinity toll road, the crane accident at the Dallas Museum of Art, and which television program most resembles her own law practice.

A few corrections and clarifications for listeners:

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Greater Dallas Planning Council Is Against Trinity Toll Road

A couple of days ago, the GDPC‘s board approved a recommendation by a 10-member panel it had convened to review the road. The committee didn’t talk to anyone who was for the road or against it. No, it just looked at publicly available documents to come up with its answer. I’ll let them tell it. According to a release:

Greater Dallas Planning Council does not find that the proposed Trinity Toll Road Alternative 3C is an effective solution to enhance current and future mobility or significantly improve transportation within the target area. We also find that Toll Road Alternative 3C does not contain elements that will contribute to enabling a livable urban core and increasing social cohesion. Instead, Alternative 3C is likely to create physical and social barriers between and among communities. Therefore, the GDPC does not support construction of the proposed Trinity Toll Road Alternative 3C.

And yet another domino falls.

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Federal Study: Trinity Toll Road Will Make Commute More Difficult for Southern Dallas Commuters

It is going to be very difficult for those shilling the Trinity Toll Road to fall back on the argument they have rallied behind over the past months, namely, that the Trinity Toll Road is an act of gratuitous social justice because it better connects southern Dallas commuters to jobs in the north of the city. The Dallas Morning News reports that a federal traffic study shows that while the Trinity Toll Road will reduce some congestion in the Mixmaster, it will also increase traffic on other major highways, making it more difficult to commute from parts of southern Dallas:

Regional traffic estimates referenced in the federal approval documents show that by 2035, the $1.3 billion toll road will increase the number of motorists driving major highways and roadways to get in, through and around downtown by about 10 percent, or 206,000 drivers.

The payoff: a reduction in the collective average daily number of drivers using the Canyon and Mixmaster by about 3 percent, or 10,000 motorists.

That decrease is about one-fourth the number of drivers the toll road will add to U.S. 175 east of S.M Wright Freeway, a major artery for people from South Dallas, Southeast Dallas and Pleasant Grove.

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Ask John Neely Bryan: Is Dallas About to Ruin Victory Park?

Question: I live in Victory Park at The House. The House as well as the other residential buildings that are on Victory Ave and N. Houston were built and designed for one-way streets. Our building is 75% full. Victory Park has come a long way as far as people moving in. Now the city and the developers think we need two way streets which we are not in favor of. Adam Medrano has been to meetings with us but we have not talked to anyone higher than Kieth Mannoy with the city of Dallas. Mayor Rawlins office will not even respond to an email. Help, before the city ruins Victory Park! — Dan H.

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Why the Morning News Should Regret the Al Petrasek Trinity Toll Road Column

As Tim has noted, having printed Al Petrasek’s absurd arguments for the Trinity toll road alone should be enough to embarrass Dallas’ daily. But online commenters to the column have pointed out an equally troubling matter. Namely, Petrasek is identified only as a “former president of the Trinity Commons Foundation” who’s now retired and lives in Arkansas.

What the newspaper didn’t tell its readers is that Petrasek is retired from having worked as a vice president at HDR Engineering, a firm that has been contracted by the North Texas Tollway Authority for design work on the Trinity project and which could reasonably expect to be involved further (and benefit financially) if the project comes to fruition. Here’s HDR touting its toll road services.

In the comments, Mike Drago of the Morning News responded to this oversight:

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Leading Off (4/3/15)

Heated Debate Over Irving’s Anti-Islamic Stance. Speakers packed last night’s meeting of the Irving City Council — some decrying and some applauding the recently passed resolution in support of a bill introduced in the state legislature that would forbid judges from using foreign law in the their rulings. State Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican, has singled out a Muslim mediation panel as a reason the measure is necessary. “Our community has had to endure death threats, ethnic and religious slurs at the hands of your resolution,” said Alia Salem of the North Texas chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations. “Islam’s goal is to immigrate, assimilate and annihilate,” responded one woman who’d shown up to support what Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne terms “sticking up for our Constitution.”

Feds OK Trinity Toll Road. Mayor Mike Rawlings says the Federal Highway Administration has approved the placement of a 9-mile highway between the levees. It’s the first of two clearances by the national government necessary for the $1.5 billion project to move forward. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has to sign off. Of course, there’s also the matter of determining funding, plus the chance that the outcome of the upcoming Dallas City Council election could bring these plans to a halt.

Balch Springs Family Tries to Raise the Dead. Police are investigating a tip that a child’s death on March 22 went unreported in a home that hosts the Congregacional Pueblo de Dios. The parents reportedly attempted a “rising ceremony” and then drove the child to Mexico for burial. “That scares me because all this time they’ve been claiming they’re Christians,” said neighbor Edward Guerra. “To find out that they’re doing this – I don’t know. I don’t know what to think about it.” Guess Ed never heard about what Jesus did to that Lazarus fellow.

Irving Gets Three Earthquakes in a Day. The first yesterday was a 2.7-magnitude just after 5:30 a.m., the second a 3.3 at about 5:36 p.m., and the last a 2.6 just after 10 p.m.

Texas Rangers Introduce New Ways to Clog Your Arteries. It’s likely to be a long, sub-.500 season in Arlington, so fans can comfort themselves with the help of chicken-fried bacon on a stick, grilled-cheese burgers, bacon cotton candy, and “Holland Hot Tot’chos.”

It’s Good Friday. And a good day for D Magazine’s offices to be closed. Enjoy the holiday weekend.

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What Did We Learn From Last Week’s Fair Park Poll?

If you haven’t noticed, my post last week that asked readers how they would react to the idea of moving the State Fair of Texas out of Fair Park got a wee bit of attention. So much, in fact, that I now keep a bag packed and ready to go by my front door so I can flee the state when the angry mobs arrive in the middle of the night with pitchforks and torches ready to tar and feather me. One thing I’ve learned: admitting you’re a Yankee and then saying anything about Big Tex is the online equivalent of suicide by cop.

Regardless, the amount of feedback that post received does seem to warrant a revisit, at least to sort through the noise. So, what have we really learned?

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