Mayor Mike Rawlings in late May unveiled a new design for a park between the Trinity River lev-ees. The plan, commissioned with $1 million from the nonprofit Trinity Trust, includes a toll road running through the park, which would cost about $250 million to build. It will never happen.
In 2003, Mayor Laura Miller unveiled the Balanced Vision Plan, which included a grand Trinity park. The design was beautiful, unfunded, and predicated on the toll road. In 2008, Mayor Tom Leppert and the Trinity Trust unveiled another Trinity park model to great fanfare. The design was beautiful, unfunded, and predicated on the toll road.
As the toll road faces unrelenting public skepticism, as City Hall, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and others desperately try to sell us on a Trojan horse of a kinder, gentler toll road, yet another Dallas mayor has held yet another press conference, unveiling yet another Trinity park model that is utterly beautiful and totally unfunded and that still (still!) includes an unnecessary toll road. I’m tired of being bamboozled by pretty watercolors. It makes me feel dumb. And all this hoopla and extravagance are a distraction from the Trinity’s most critical issue: in 2016, are we still contemplating ruining our singular natural asset with a massive highway?
The fact is, the city is never going to build the park before the toll road is constructed. And it’s not just that the new park design costs over a quarter-billion dollars, that we have no money for it, or that many aspects of the design appear unlikely to meet federal approval. If the park were built before the road, that would undermine the long-standing raison d’être for the toll road, and (of greater concern) lots of folks would actually begin using the park. They would take ownership of the park and cry bloody murder if the city tried to ram a huge toll road through it.
So the park remains hostage to the road.
Soon, after the debate about the new design’s aesthetic wanes, the argument will be made that we’ll have to be patient for the park. The money will have to be raised and the design refined and approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Then, of course, we will have to wait until the toll road is built before we begin work on the park, since it would be foolish to muck up the park with all that road construction. By then I anticipate some new mayor will be unveiling some new park design. Spoiler alert: it’ll be exorbitant and unfunded. But it’ll be beautiful. And there will be a fancy scale model.
Wouldn’t it be great to stop living in this grand, aspirational mode and just build the damn park already? Right now we’ve got $30 million to $40 million in city bond funds for the park, so why don’t we build a life-size model? It won’t have enormous lakes and dramatic overlooks, but it’ll be accessible and connect to our surrounding hike and bike trail system. What it lacks in extravagance it’ll make up for by actually existing.
Angela Hunt is a former Dallas City Council member.