Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Vonciel Jones Hill, transportation chair, says it’s time to find ‘creative funding’ to pay for Trinity River toll road

The chair of the city council's Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee wants the toll road between the levees. (Brad Loper/Staff photographer)
Vonciel Jones Hill, chair of the Dallas City Council’s Transportation and Trinity River Corridor Committee, wants the Trinity River toll road built, and she will no longer take “no money” as answer. Said Hill Monday afternoon, there may have to be some “creative funding” to build the high-speed, nine-mile-long, six-lane-deep toll road along the east levee — not to mention the rest of the Trinity River Corridor Project first approved by voters in 1998 — but it will be funded.
“We have built Central Expressway,” she said at the close of today’s briefing by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which came to explain, among other things, the need to tear down a piece of old bridge and move a piece of the river. “We have built 635. We have built the tollway. We have built 121. We have built 161. We have built the Chisholm Trail. I could go on, but my point is once we have started to build a roadway project, we have always been confronted with the challenge of funding it.”
From a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers briefing presented to the Dallas City Council in August
And, she said, that money’s always been found — especially when that roadway project serves what she calls “the northern portion” of the city.
Alas, she insisted, the “parkway serves the people south of 30, the people coming out of southern Dallas and Pleasant Grove. And so now all of the sudden some folks want to say we can’t find the money? That is fallacious. If we found money for everything that goes north, I suggest we put our shoulders to the wheel and find the money to build the road that enhances the south.”
Said Hill, the road’s critics have essentially told “people in the south” they “will have to rely on mass transit, bicycles and walking.” And, said Hill, “I reject that argument.”
The road, of course, will cost around $1.5 billion — give or take an amount yet to be determined. Fact is, we won’t know who’s going to build the road until after the Corps and Federal Highway Administration’s separate environmental impact statements are made final. Then and only when will the Corps issue its record of decision, which is expected in December. When that happens, says NTTA spokesman Michael Rey, “That allows us to study what (if anything) is approved to be built.”
It’s not clear how long that feasibility study would take, but at the end of it the NTTA will determine if it’s worth its while to build the road. If that NTTA passes, it’s not clear if anyone else would be interested in building a road that could wind up beneath floodwaters from time to time.
And, as the Corps’ Rob Newman explained today, whoever builds the road will also have to pay for moving 100 feet of river that overlaps with the parkway just south of downtown, between Stemmons and Corinth. But Hill and assistant city manager Jill Jordan, who oversees the Trinity River Corridor Project, insist the city will not pay any more for the toll road — that Dallas’ contribution has been “capped.” But it remains unclear exactly how much the city has spent using tollroad-designated funds, which have been used on various parkway-”related” projects, including using dirt from the proposed lakes to build a “bench” along the east levee.
And as Newman, the Corps’ director of the Trinity River Corridor Project, reminded the council today, the city will still be on the hook for $70 million in other expenses related to the completion of the so-called Balanced Vision Plan, including restoring the natural meanders to the river near downtown. As Jordan said again today, that money will likely come from future bond elections as the Trinity morphs into an ongoing concern, ‘like all other large parks, like Fair Park or the zoo or White Rock Lake.” In other words, it will always need money.
Hill, though, doesn’t want to hear that the lack of money will kill the tollroad.
“The parkway continues to have conversations,” she said. “The voters have twice — twice — approved the parkway.” She was referring to the 2007 referendum that nearly killed the toll road.
“The increased costs would probably not have been such if we had not had to endure the second referendum, but we did and that has delayed the parkway. The issue continues to be the cost.”
Said Hill, stop talking cost and come up with a solution involving “creative funding.”