by Jim Schultz - The Dallas Observer Blog, Tue May 29, 2007
Colleen McCain Nelson was a crackerjack City Hall reporter for The Dallas Morning News before becoming an editorial writer. ..Read more
Sorry, but to set this up, I have to recap. The News is a huge backer and partisan promoter of putting a big fat honking high-speed highway through the new park we’re trying to build along the river downtown. They’re terrified that their side, the road whores, will lose a proposed referendum on the road. So they’re trying to convince everybody that voting is a really, really bad thing that just makes trouble.
It’s not that they want us to vote in favor of the road. It’s that they do not want us to vote. Period.
So two weeks ago, under the shrieking headline “Tug too hard, and Trinity project could unravel,” The News told its readers that a referendum could cost the city, among other things, “more than $500 million in future federal funds, which will provide flood protection and a range of other improvements. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Pete Sessions have been effective advocates for the Trinity plan. But their work could be for naught if Congress senses dissension about the project.”
SCARY! If we vote, the Feds will punish us to the tune of half a billion dollars. And they’ll flood us! Oh, my gaaaaawd!
But then on May 17 on KERA-FM (90.1), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who represents the district where the Trinity project will be built and who chairs the House water resources subcommittee, said it wasn’t true: “I'm never anti people doing a vote,” she said. “It hasn't been voted on before. So I guess that's the right of people if that's what they want to do.”
She went on to state categorically that there will be no financial penalty if Dallas votes on the road, even if we vote the road down: “There really is no impact, because what we're doing through water resources is different than what is being discussed about the tollways."
To us and, I assume, to The News, Johnson’s office has been firm: This project is about flood control. The money for it is flood control money, not road money. In the post-Katrina era, Johnson cares about flood control. She doesn’t care where the road goes or if there even is a road. She’s not going to take away flood control money because of some spat over a road she doesn’t care about.
So for a week and a half, The News simply refused to cover her remarks, even though her remarks directly contradicted what the paper had been asserting in editorials and in its news columns -- especially the idea that the proposed road was somehow paying for the rest of the project.
It’s an absolutely absurd assertion. It’s the big lie. The road is sucking wind financially, it's enormously under-funded, and it's gobbling up resources from other parts of the project. Why? Because it’s a bad road. It’s not where it needs to be. It won’t generate enough traffic to pay its own way, either as a free public highway or as a toll road. As a toll road, it’s an even bigger loser than it would have been as a free road.
The statement that the road is going to pay for other elements of the plan is a lie. Johnson’s remarks illuminated that lie. The most important thing she said is that the money for the rest of the project is not linked to money for the road. You can kill the road dead tomorrow, and it won’t cost the rest of the project a nickel, and it won’t slow the rest of the project down a day