Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dallas’ Trinity Lakes project regains its mojo

A rendering released by Dallas’ Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee shows a portion of the proposed Trinity Lakes area.
A zip line over the Trinity River. Spray parks. A bicycle motocross track. A climbing wall on one of the support piers of the Commerce Street bridge.
Jugglers. Kayak rentals. Trails. An 18-hole, lighted disc golf course.
Months after endorsing a scaled-down — and seemingly more realistic — version of the Trinity Lakes, Dallas officials and key Trinity boosters are once again dreaming big, with an unfunded, $76 million list of possible amenities.
Despite attempts to temper expectations, despite cautions that the veritable theme park between the levees is what could be and not necessarily what will be, the grandiose vision behind them proved irresistible for some.
“So many things in the corridor are possible once we allow our imagination to go there,” said Gail Thomas, director of The Trinity Trust, the nonprofit that’s pledging to raise all the funds to build the improvements.
Dallas City Council members briefed on the concept Monday were split in their opinions. The open-ended presentation provided fodder for both sides.
And now the public, as is often the case with the Trinity, will have to wait and see what’s real and what’s not.
Will an additional lake be built under the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, or will engineering studies show that it’s not feasible? Will the lakes’ parking lots and access road remain, or will they be bulldozed to make way for the Trinity toll road?
Will the plan be even partially realized, or will it join other fanciful Trinity proposals that are collecting dust on shelves at City Hall?
“We’ve got to get realistic about what it’s going to look like down there,” council member Scott Griggs said. “We need to get the mythology out of this.”
Though the city’s Trinity River Corridor Project is perhaps most closely associated with the controversial — and largely unfunded — Trinity Parkway, the proposed toll road between the levees, the lakes have been a central component of the plan for years.
The lake idea well predates 1998, when voters approved a $246 million bond program that set into motion what’s commonly known as the Trinity project.
So it was no small deal that the council last February voted to approve a $737,000 design contract for two smaller versions of the planned lakes. That action set the stage for the council to vote in coming months on spending $44 million to actually construct the lakes.
The 30-plus acres of starter lakes was not what officials promised in years past: a 90-acre Urban Lake, a 56-acre Natural Lake and a 128-acre West Dallas Lake. But construction could begin next spring and finish, at long last, in 2016.
The slimmed-down plan — cheered by some as long overdue and derided by others as nothing more than “puddles” — also appeared to acknowledge that the grand plans pitched to the public over the years were really just pretty drawings.
That the big lakes, broad promenades and futuristic amenities — think solar-powered water taxis — were unrealistic. That all the Trinity bond money was going to buy was a small lake that could maybe be expanded.
Until Monday.
The drawings that accompanied the council briefing echoed the extravagance of past Trinity plans. The broad expanses of grass and weeds that today flank the narrow river channel through downtown Dallas were virtually invisible, so jampacked were those drawings with one attraction after another.
Even as officials stressed that the plans would evolve, and that everything probably wouldn’t get built, the details seemed, at times, to have little regard for that possibility.
The presentation gave the same weight — a “note” in small font — to pointing out that a zip line over the Trinity would have to be operated by a concessionaire as it did to observing that the toll road would eliminate parking and access roads to the river park. (Explaining how people would get to the lakes if there were no parking lots or access roads, Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said officials would “have to figure out some other arrangement.”)
Predictably, the presentation stirred a proxy argument among council members over the merits of the toll road.
Sandy Greyson criticized the drawings for playing down the impact of the toll road on the park, even as she praised the lake proposal’s “aspirational” approach. Sheffie Kadane said opponents of the toll road need to get on board.
Vonciel Jones Hill said she saw no reason why an amenity-filled park couldn’t coexist with the roadway.
As for the notion that the lake proposal might be unrealistic, she didn’t deny that possibility.
“It is clearly dreaming,” said Hill, who chairs the transportation and Trinity River project committee. “But Dallas gets reality by dreaming.”