On November 6, Dallas voters will decide proposition 1, concerning a proposed toll road:
…to prohibit the construction, maintenance, or improvement of, or the expenditure of funds or, any roadways within the Trinity River levees unless certain restrictions relating to use, location, number of travel lanes, and speed limits are met…
A yes vote cancels the toll road, requiring a low capacity road instead.
A NO vote allows the massive Trinity River Corridor Project to proceed, with the toll road being built.
To be clear, I am uncomfortable with much of the Corridor Project. The new park being built by downtown is a joke.
However, the toll road opposition (the “vote yes crowd”) are advocating a huge blunder using arguments that range between flaky and crazy:
- Exaggerate the park’s value. The park section that shares space with the toll road should be called Drainage Ditch Park. It’s currently a long, barren plain between 30 foot levees. Sure, the redeveloped land will be better than it was, but it will never be a White Rock Lake Park or a San Antonio River Walk. You can’t even see Drainage Ditch Park unless you’re in a tall building or on a bridge (or on the toll road), very few people will ever live within walking distance, and the levees and flood risk prevent significant structures or trees from being anywhere near the park. This artificial lake will almost certainly have no services–or it will at least have nothing we don’t mind being ruined in the next flood. The above photo shows how far away amenities will probably be, and this 1908 Trinity River photo shows why the park cannot have any services:
Even if a toll road was to seriously disrupt this park, it would have a minimal impact on Drainage Ditch Park.
- Petty selfishness. Some allege the road only benefits suburbanites. It’s false (see next), but even if true, so what? Is Dallas now like selfish Highland Park, which is intentionally reducing capacity of a grossly congested arterial road?
- Misconstrue the traffic benefit. Opponents say the road only benefits people who want to bypass downtown. In fact, by relieving traffic on the notoriously congested I-35E, the toll road eases downtown access.
- Misconstrue the traffic benefit II. Some opponents allege that more roads will increase congestion by making transportation easier. Heaven forbid we make it easier for people to transport themselves! We don’t know if we can built our way out of congestion because we haven’t even tried!
- Authoritarianism. The prior three points show how the opponents endorse European-style, interventionist government, where government exists to tell you what to do, not to serve you.
- Anti-motorist. Scuttling the toll road will make Dallas look awfully close to Portland, OR, where transportation funds are intentionally diverted to expensive public transportation projects mainly to defund road projects.
- Mischaracterize the value. Some opponents say that Dallas has very little on the line, under $100 million bond dollars that can be returned. In fact, this toll road’s net value may well exceed a billion dollars, the vast majority of which will be paid for by other agencies and jurisdictions. If Dallas scuttles the toll road, we lose its entire direct value plus value adds like reduced congestion, reduced pollution, and easier access to downtown.
- Mischaracterize the cost of alternatives. The only realistic alternative to building the toll road in Drainage Ditch Park appears to be a route up Industrial Blvd. In addition to disrupting a vibrant commercial area and a chunk of Dallas’s property tax base, this would require at least $300 million more. (Eminent domain isn’t cheap, and that’s not all.) Furthermore, if no toll road is built inside Drainage Ditch Park, the park’s cost may increase.
- Mischaracterize the loss. Some opponents allege that funds will still be available for a (more expensive) alternative if we ditch this plan. Actually, history suggests that fierce competition for scarce dollars prohibits this money from magically sticking around for us to use later. Recall DART’s fight with the FTA concerning Love Field rail tunnels, where DART came close to losing $700 million.
- Bickering over petty issues. Just look at the silly arguments over exit ramps to Drainage Ditch Park. WHO CARES? If you can’t get to Drainage Ditch Park from the toll road, several bridges will take you to the other side.
- Unreasonable standard of certainty. Uncertainty and flux is a natural part of complex projects, especially ones that aren’t even finalized. Instead of recognizing that this is still a work in progress, the opposition makes hay over minor unresolved details (e.g., can trees be put around the road?), acting as if they represent a gaping hole. If absolute certainty is the only to govern, we can’t have representative democracy!
- Conspiracy theories. The opposition repeatedly alleges that the public has been duped into voting for a toll road and that the Dallas Morning News is complicit. In fact, a high speed road was clearly mentioned in the 1998 bond program that authorized this public works project, and its opposition even mentioned an “eight-lane tollway” (which in reality will be 4 lanes to begin, later maybe 6 as capacity is needed).
- Flat out dumb arguments. Some whine that this toll road will take a few years to plan and build. Hello, when was the last time a complicated road project didn’t take a while to build?
- Armchair quarterbacking. Some of the roll road’s technical issues are Byzantinely complicated. Regardless, many members of the opposition with zero experience appointed themselves hydrologists and traffic engineers and made insanely false pronouncements, like suggesting (incorrectly) that this summer’s rains would have flooded the toll road. In fact, no flood for the past 20 years would have reached the toll road! Some also suggest that additional roadway capacity won’t make a difference. Oh, really? Put Central Expressway back at 2 lanes each direction and let’s see what happens!
- Cut off your nose to spite your face. Some argue that this whole public works project has gotten out of hand. I agree. I think most of the non-transportation improvements, including designer bridges and Drainage Ditch Park, are at best a questionable use of taxpayer money. However, this anti-toll road crusade is “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” We are “sticking it to the man” by surgically discarding the only economically useful part of the Corridor Project! How much sense does that make?
I’ll be voting NO on November 6. The economic and environmental benefits of a badly needed highway far outweigh a sliver of land from Drainage Ditch Park.