Saturday, August 18, 2007

Challenge to Sen. Chris Harris and Highland Village Mayor Costa to support your assertions that there is no health risk for children

August 18, 2007

Dear Mayor Costa and Senator Harris,

I write because I am attempting to educate myself on the issue of air pollution in regard to one’s residence, its proximity to a highway similar to the proposed FM 2499, Section 4, and children’s health. Your letters to the Highland Village Parents Group are evidence that you are attempting to educate yourselves as well.

Along that line, I would greatly appreciate the information and studies cited to you by TXDOT and the physicians you consulted to support their position that I and the community should have, as Senator Harris stated, “no cause for concern.” In researching the issue myself, I found various studies that address the same subject as the USC School of Medicine study. Following are a few I came across.

Distance-weighted traffic density in proximity to a home is a risk factor for leukemia and other childhood cancers. Radian International, LLC, Denver, CO

The results are suggestive of an association between proximal high traffic streets with traffic counts > or = 20,000 vehicles per day and childhood cancer, including leukemia.

[Features of traffic near houses and respiratory damage in children: the results of the SIDRIA (Italian Study on Respiratory Problems in Children and the Environment)]. Unit of Cancer Epidemiology, S Giovanni Battista Hospital and Center for Cancer Prevention, Piemonte, Torino, Italy.

For children living in metropolitan areas, a clear association was found between high flow of heavy vehicles near their residence and several respiratory conditions.

Childhood leukemia and road traffic: A population-based case-control study, Lombardy Cancer Registry, National Cancer Institute, Milano, Italy

Evidence suggests that children living in homes that are heavily exposed living

Traffic-related Air Pollution near Busy Roads. The East Bay Children's Respiratory Health Study. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency, Oakland; and Atmospheric Sciences Department and Indoor Environment Department, Environmental Energy Technologies Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California

“We found spatial variability in traffic pollutants and associated differences in respiratory symptoms in a region with good air quality. Our findings support the hypothesis that traffic-related pollution is associated with respiratory symptoms in children.”

Air pollution from truck traffic and lung function in children living near motorways.
Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Wageningen, The Netherlands

The results indicate that exposure to traffic-related air pollution, in particular diesel exhaust particles, may lead to reduced lung function in children living near major motorways.

Traffic-related air pollution is associated with atopy in children living in urban areas. Medical Institute of Environmental Hygiene at the Heinrich-Heine University, Düsseldorf, Germany

The results indicate that traffic-related air pollution leads to increased prevalence of atopic sensitizations, allergic symptoms, and diseases.

Air Pollution from Traffic and the Development of Respiratory Infections and Asthmatic and Allergic Symptoms in Children. School of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Environmental and Occupational Health Group, Utrecht University, Utrecht; RIVM-National Institute of Public Health and Environment, Bilthoven; Department of Pediatrics, Erasmus University, and Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam; Beatrix Children’s Hospital and Department of Epidemiology, Groningen University, Groningen, The Netherlands; Institute of Epidemiology, GSF National Research Center for Environment and Health, Neuherberg, Germany; Department of Environmental Health, Stockholm County Council; and Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

This study has suggested an association between self-reported prevalence of respiratory illness, specifically wheezing, ear/nose/ throat infections, and reporting of physician-diagnosed asthma and flu or serious cold, and traffic-related air pollution.

There are several more studies relating to the subject of traffic-related air pollution and its significant impact on children’s health. I will gladly provide you with the names of these reports.

Very truly yours,

Roxane Thomas
Highland Village

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Accountability 101 - Who's to Blame?

In the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse, it's time to take a hard look at the politicians and policies that may have contributed to the disaster
BY G.R. ANDERSON JR. AND PAUL DEMKO - Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages - August 15, 2007
Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota's junior U.S. Senator, may have said it best: "A bridge in America just shouldn't fall down."

But shortly after 6 p.m. on August 1, one of them did. Anyone who reached the Mississippi river before Minneapolis police could cordon off a wide perimeter around the fallen I-35W bridge got a startling view of the disaster: smoke, sirens, choppers, cracked concrete, crushed cars, and the walking (and swimming) wounded.

During the frantic recovery efforts, politicians called a moratorium on finger-pointing. In a press conference 90 minutes after the collapse, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty pledged cooperation, despite their diametrically opposed politics.

It didn't last long. On August 2nd, Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, a Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, assailed President George W. Bush from the House floor. In October 2003, Bush made a counter-offer on a transportation bill that left the budget for surface and bridge repair "still $90 billion below where his own Department of Transportation said it needed to be," Oberstar said. "This administration failed to support a robust investment in surface transportation and the funding to accompany it."

The Bush administration, for its part, immediately placed the blame squarely on Minnesota's state government. According to the Associated Press, "Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, said that while the inspection did not indicate the bridge was at risk of failing, 'if an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions.'"

The truth is there's plenty of blame to go around. The investigators and engineers at the National Transportation Safety Board expect to spend roughly 18 months conducting a thorough investigation into exactly what went wrong. But it's not too early to ask about the decisions and policies that may have contributed to this disaster. After all, there are 1,097 bridges in Minnesota deemed "structurally deficient."

Says one longtime Republican state transportation lobbyist: "To cut to the heart of it: Who's culpable?"


Governor Tim Pawlenty addresses the media horde the day after the bridge collapseIn 1999, as state House majority leader, Pawlenty said that he would not support a gas tax increase for freeway lane expansion. In 2001, Pawlenty called the metro's roads a "vehicular prison system." But in both cases, Pawlenty unveiled complicated plans to pour money into the state's road system that, in many regards, didn't come to fruition.

Then Pawlenty emerged as a Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2002. His opponent for the party's nod, Brian Sullivan, outflanked Pawlenty to the right by outspokenly opposing a gas tax increase. Pawlenty followed suit, signing a no-new-taxes pledge with the Taxpayers League, handcuffing his options before he was even elected.

Pawlenty made good on his promise. In 2005 and 2007 the governor gleefully vetoed a gas tax increase, even as Republicans like Ron Erhardt, who was among the sponsors of the measure both times, tried to get Pawlenty to see the necessity of it. "We were quite happy in 2007 because we got a bipartisan plan passed," Erhardt says. "The leadership in this party has dropped the ball on funding transportation issues, just because somebody, a big somebody, signed a no-new-taxes pledge."

A gas tax increase that went to a dedicated fund for transportation could have taken the metro's roadways and transit system out of the 1970s, and into the future. More importantly, the federal government requires that states match funding up to 20 percent to receive money earmarked for transportation infrastructure. "Go ask MnDOT how much money is sitting in Washington for us, that we left on the table because we don't have a gas tax," says a transportation lobbyist.

Mitigating factor: As much as any one person can shoulder the blame, Pawlenty looks culpable. The collapse happened on his watch, after all, and his lieutenant governor, whom he also appointed to be transportation commissioner, was supposed to know about MnDOT's alarming reports. But to his credit, Pawlenty has finally done an about face on the gas tax.


Carol Molnau

Molnau doesn't have the kind of technical background you'd expect from the person responsible for building and maintaining the state's transportation infrastructure. Raised on a farm in Lafayette, Molnau has demonstrated her rural bona fides by milking cows, and once famously beat former Governor Jesse Ventura in a keg-throwing contest.

But after Pawlenty tapped her to be his running mate, and the two breezed into office in 2002, she soon found herself taking on a second job as transportation commissioner. Although it may have seemed an odd fit, the appointment posed two advantages for Pawlenty: It allowed him to cut the $108,000 salary typically paid to someone in that position, and put an anti-tax ally in charge of an agency with an annual budget of $2 billion.

Upon taking over the two roles, Molnau vowed that she would bring "reform and accountability" to MnDOT. It's been all downhill since then. She sparred with the governor over the North Star commuter line, and due to a controversy over bids, delayed the much-needed overhaul of the Crosstown and I-35W Commons south of Minneapolis. Molnau has toed the line against an increase in a gas tax, and spoken out against funding for mass transit, emphasizing politics over policy. As a result, she has overseen the steady decline—by fiscal neglect—of the state's road and bridge infrastructure.

Mitigating factors: Molnau was in China when the bridge collapsed, which is somewhat symbolic of her tenure as transportation commissioner. But it's not her fault she was appointed to a job she wasn't qualified to do. After all, as Molnau told the Star Tribune, "Do I look at the bridge inspection reports? No ... I really believe we have professionals trained to do that."

Less than 24 hours after the bridge collapsed, Dan Dorgan, MnDOT's top bridge engineer, gamely faced a throng of TV cameras and microphones. Sweating profusely, Dorgan looked like a man undergoing an exceptionally painful colonoscopy. Here was a geek used to spending intimate time with bridge blueprints and inspection reports being forced to answer the question on everyone's mind: How could this happen?

Dorgan walked the press through the basics of bridge inspection, detailing the history of the I-35W bridge and defining the suddenly trenchant term "structurally deficient." But when asked if he was convinced that MnDOT had done everything it could to insure that the bridge was structurally sound, Dorgan provided his most revealing answer: "In light of what happened, I would say we thought we had done all we could. Obviously something went terribly wrong."

MnDOT's dysfunction has been well documented. In 2003, the Star Tribune ran a series of stories detailing myriad problems within the agency, from shoddy contracting to profligate spending to low-balling property owners when purchasing land for highways. To cite just one example of misplaced priorities, in 2002 MnDOT paid $10,750 to a conference speaker to detail "The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Harley Davidson."

MnDOT knew there was a problem with the bridge and was in a position to do something about it. In 2006, URS Corporation, one of the largest engineering firms worldwide, released an in-depth study of the I-35W bridge and offered three possible courses of corrective action to ensure the structure's safety. MnDOT, despite heated internal debate, chose the cheapest option: continued inspections.

This decision was made despite numerous obstacles that made meticulous visual examinations of the bridge nearly impossible. In fact, the URS report pointed out that access to some of the most vulnerable portions of the bridge was "very limited." Inspectors struggled with piles of pigeon shit, bats, spider webs, poor lighting, and angry motorists, who occasionally expressed their frustration at lane closures by hurling debris at MnDOT workers.

In sum, MnDOT has all the hallmarks of a paranoid bureaucracy more concerned with safe-guarding its turf and reputation than actually building and maintaining the state's transportation infrastructure. Considering this dysfunctional state of affairs and the chronic under-funding of the department, it's a wonder that more bridges haven't crumbled.

Mitigating factors: MnDOT has no power over budgeting. The agency must make do with the insufficient financial resources allocated by the legislature and the governor. "The professional staff over there assembles the best research that they can," says Rick Krueger, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, a coalition of businesses, labor, and local governments that advocates for better roadways. "There's been a glaring lack of funding in transportation investment that needs to be addressed."

The Taxpayers League
Locally, the Taxpayers League led the way for a new era of small-government starve-the-beasters, and no one banged the drum more loudly than its then-president, David Strom. As the 2002 election returns came in and it became clear that Republicans would win big, Strom was not shy in proclaiming victory. "One word: mandate," he told the Star Tribune.

Strom and the league had reason to crow: They helped elect a slew of their candidates, most of them signing a no-new-taxes pledge. Among them was gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty.

In deference to his benefactors, Pawlenty led an unprecedented era of slash-and-burn politics, most of his policies heartily endorsed by Strom. In 2004, for instance, a Metro Transit bus strike instigated by Pawlenty was cheered by Strom and other anti-transit blowhards on the sidelines. And every time Pawlenty vetoed an increase in the gas tax, it wasn't hard to see the governor's pen was being directed by the Taxpayers League.

When word got around last week that Pawlenty was finally considering a gas tax hike in the face of the catastrophe, Strom, who is no longer the president of the league, piped up that Pawlenty had "panicked." But perhaps it's Strom and his ilk who are panicked, after realizing that their brand of bull-headed ideology hamstrings government to the point where it can't perform its most basic function: Protecting the citizenry.

Mitigating factor: Strom has moved on from his post as the head of the Taxpayers League, clearing the way for former State Rep. Phil Krinkie, whose hard-line stance on taxes has earned him the nickname Dr. "No."


Marty Seifert
The House minority leader has been Pawlenty's staunchest deputy in fighting DFL efforts to increase the gas tax in recent years, despite glaring holes in the state's transportation budget. It's now projected that over the next six years there will be an annual funding shortfall of $2.4 billion for transportation projects. Over the next two decades, the funding gap is expected to reach more than $30 billion

Last legislative session, Democrats attempted to staunch the ballooning deficit. The legislature approved a measure that would eventually raise the gas tax by 7.5 cents, which would have been the first gas tax hike since 1988.

But Seifert sneered at even this modest transporation fee. "Joe Sixpack back home does not need more tax increases," he said in March. "This is a morbidly obese tax increase."

Even with Seifert pooh-poohing it, the measure initially cleared the House and Senate with 11 Republican legislators joining their DFL colleagues in voting for it. But the margin in the House was just one vote over the two-thirds threshold needed to override a veto.

After Pawlenty spiked the bill, Seifert led an intense lobbying campaign to convince Republicans not to contradict the Governor. Those who had voted in favor were inundated with phone calls and emails. Eventually four Republicans (Jim Abeler, Bud Heidgerken, Dean Urdahl and Kathy Tingelstad) flipped their votes. The veto held.

"It was a loyalty to the Governor kind of thing," says Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-St. Paul), who sits on the transportation finance committee. "This was a huge issue for Marty Seifert."

Following the bridge collapse, Seifert has continued to insist that a gas tax increase is unnecessary.

Mitigating factor: Seifert was merely carrying water for the Governor. His spirited defense was at some level standard partisan politics.

The Bridge Builders
Kurt Fhurman, the inspector responsible for signing off on the I-35W bridge every year since 1994, thinks he knows who is responsible for the collapse.

"Go after the designer," Fhurman angrily told the New York Daily News several days after the collapse. "Go ask him why he did what he did."

The bridge was designed in 1961 by Sverdrup & Parcel, a prominent firm that also designed Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the Superdome in New Orleans, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The bridge was built between 1964 and 1967 by Industrial Construction Company and Hurcon Inc. Both businesses are now defunct.

Even though it's early in the investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board is already raising questions about the bridge's design. One issue of concern: the bridge didn't have any piers built into the riverbed. It also lacked what are commonly referred to as "engineering redundancies"—back-up support built into the system to minimize damage if one part fails.

Last week, the NTSB and Federal Highway Authority focused on so-called gusset plates, steel sheets that connected the bridge's girders together. The inspectors said the plates may have been a design flaw.

Mitigating factor: To be fair, the bridge was built in a dark period of American construction. In the 1960s and early 1970s, builders and policy officials believed engineering had evolved to the point where bridges could be built on the cheap—a notion that disappeared just a few years after the I-35W bridge opened.

Progressive Contractors, Inc.
At the time of the bridge collapse, 18 employees from Progressive Contractors were in the midst of completing $2.4 million in repairs. The St. Michael-based construction company, founded in 1971, had been working on the bridge since early June. For two months, workers drilled into the surface with jackhammers, cut away pavement with saws, and poured concrete.

But what raised eyebrows about the work was the sheer volume of equipment and construction materials deployed on the bridge at the time of collapse. Federal authorities estimate that the bridge was supporting 100 tons of gravel, at least two semitrailers, and an unknown quantity of concrete, which weighs close to 100 pounds per cubic foot. Neither Progressive Contractors nor MnDOT conducted a study to scrutinize how the construction work might impact the bridge's safety.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters highlighted this potential factor in a statement released last week. "Given the questions being raised by the NTSB, it is vital that states remain mindful of the extra weight construction projects place on bridges," she said.

Progressive Contractors, which specializes in bridge and highway construction, maintains that it's not unusual to have that much equipment onsite. "Their people are just as baffled as everyone," says David Lillehaug, the attorney representing the company. "We're just scratching our heads with this."

Progressive Contractors also disputes reports that the bridge had been swaying prior to the collapse. "We have now met with every single worker who was on the bridge when it collapsed. None of them observed or reported any unusual swaying," said Tom Sloan, vice president of the company's bridge division, in a statement released last week.

But Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, a University of California, Berkeley professor who is a bridge expert, says that construction activities may have been one factor in creating a "perfect storm" that led to the failure of the structure. "The last straw may be the construction," he says.

Mitigating factor: MnDOT's chief bridge engineer, Dan Dorgan, has said the I-35W bridge was built to meet military specifications, meaning that it should have been able to withstand bumper-to-bumper traffic of flatbeds carrying M1 Abrams tanks, which would be significantly heavier than the construction equipment and materials on the bridge at the time of the collapse.

The Previous Administrations
Remember the famous "Jesse Checks" that Governor Ventura put in everyone's mailbox? Those were heady times from 1999 to 2001, when the state was running a surplus and Governor Turnbuckle gave Minnesotans a rebate on sales tax collection. Everyone cheered because Jesse got us our money back.

Turns out popular policy isn't always good policy. Aside from looking wasteful when the state budget bottomed out in 2002, those funds could have gone to a roadway system that everyone knew was badly in need of an overhaul. In 2000, the rebate took some $200 million away from transportation needs. More saliently, Ventura also urged lawmakers to cut license tab registration fees that year, a move that depleted the highway trust fund by some $170 million annually.

Ventura wasn't the only governor who was shortsighted with transportation funding. For years, Arne Carlson said he was against an increase in the gas tax, and though the state Senate passed one in 1997, the measure didn't pass the House because Carlson wouldn't support it. For most of his tenure, Carlson was more interested in using tollbooths as a revenue source, but the idea never took off.

In short, both governors ignored the fact that our roadways were deteriorating.

Mitigating factors: The gas tax, which was last increased in 1988 from 17 to 20 cents a gallon, has long been unpopular with Minnesotans. The state was running budget surpluses during most of Ventura and Carlson's tenures in office, and raising taxes didn't seem necessary.

The Bureaucracy
Aside from a lack of money to get matching funds for federal projects, the many steps required for reviewing and planning Minnesota's roadways and interstates is hopelessly tangled up in red tape.

For example, federal law requires that a regional planning agency oversee transportation dollars sent to the state. For the seven-county Twin Cities area, that agency is the Metropolitan Council. The council takes its cue from the Transportation Advisory Board, which was created by the state legislature in 1974. The board is responsible for reviewing MnDOT plans and reports, and issuing recommendations to the Met Council, which accepts or rejects the board's recommendation as a whole. Then the council takes its case to the legislature and the governor's office, which decide which projects need to be funded.

The biggest problem with the system, of course, is that urgent projects get lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, and pet projects jump to the head of the line—especially new construction rather than repair, because, politically speaking, such ventures are far sexier to lawmakers and constituents alike. In other words, the system is not only arcane, but also highly susceptible to politicization.

Mitigating factors: In recent years, the Met Council has had its work cut out for it, with folks like Pawlenty, Strom, and a host of other local neo-con think-tankers being openly hostile to the regional planning agency. Even if the Met Council and MnDOT had been working in perfect concert and sounding the bells for the right projects at the right time, it's likely their pleas would have fallen on deaf ears.

The Federal Government

Blaming the collapse of a bridge in Minnesota on the war in Iraq might seem like a parody of knee-jerk liberalism, but that doesn't mean there isn't some truth in it.

Of course, inadequate federal funding of transportation infrastructure is a phenomenon that precedes the present administration. Former DFL Sen. Dave Durenberger recalls the same frustration two decades earlier during the Reagan years. "I was trying to get colleagues and the president to see that our federal highway system was deteriorating at an alarming rate, but no one wanted to hear it," he says.

Even so, it's impossible not to think longingly of the $450 billion-plus we've squandered in Iraq. Terrorists might not have blown up the I-35W bridge, but they certainly distracted us from the pressing problems at home.

Mitigating factor: Donald Rumsfeld isn't transportation secretary.

Shiny New Toys
Politicians like to build things. They like ribbon cuttings and newspaper photos and structures bearing their own illustrious names. Proof of this phenomenon? The Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing.

Closer to home, the same phenomenon partly explains why the legislature can find half a billion dollars to spend on the Hiawatha light rail line, but can't scrape up sufficient resources to maintain roads and bridges. Or to cite a more egregious example, it's why, when all is said and done, we will likely have spent somewhere in the area of $2 billion dollars on sports stadiums. Nobody gets a PR boost when MnDOT allocates additional funds to reinforce gusset plates.

"Bridges actually are in better shape than a lot of other parts of our infrastructure," says Kent Harries, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. "It's going to get worse, and it's going to get exponentially worse."

Mitigating factor: The argument pitting highways against public transit is wrongheaded. The truth is that substantial investment will have to be made in both to keep up with the state's transportation needs.
It's amazing how a tangle of steel and concrete and bodies in the Mississippi River can concentrate minds and galvanize action.

It wasn't 72 hours after the bridge collapsed that Governor Pawlenty was conceding the need to increase the gas tax. Congress signed off on a $250 million emergency appropriations bill before the week was over. By the end of last week, plans to build a new bridge were on the fast track. The goal is to have it finished by the end of 2008.

The investigation into what went wrong and how to prevent such tragedies in the future is a murkier business. The NTSB immediately had investigators on the ground poking through the wreckage. Eventually, the bridge will be reconstructed, piece by piece, much like a crashed airplane, in an effort to discover which part failed first.

But whatever combination of factors are ultimately deemed to have resulted in the dramatic collapse of the bridge, it may turn out that the biggest problem had nothing to do with concrete or steel but rather something much more human: a failure of planning and public policy.
Read more & see photos

Mirror, Mirror - To see who's behind the bridge collapse, just take a look - Jim Schutze writes about earmarks, pork and other things

By Jim Schutze - The Dallas Observer - Published: August 16, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

NTTA Board Meeting Wed., Aug. 15th

By NTTA - Monday, Aug. 13, 2007
The North Texas Tollway Authority Board of Directors will hold their regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, August 15 at 9:20 a.m. in the Board Room of the NTTA Administrative Offices located at 5900 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 200 in Plano.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Divers return to bridge collapse site

By MARTIGA LOHN - Associated Press Writer - Sun. Aug. 12, 2007
MINNEAPOLIS - Divers were back searching the Mississippi River on Sunday for the remains of five people missing in the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge, while cranes removed more vehicles from the ends of the fallen span.

Navy divers were out of the water for about 12 hours because of a thunderstorm, said Navy spokesman Dave Nagle. Storms made their task more dangerous over the weekend, strengthening river currents on Saturday after an overnight storm dropped as much as 2 inches of rain on the region.

A contractor took away 44 cars over the weekend, out of roughly 100 on the bridge when it fell on Aug. 1, said Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Most vehicles on the bridge's north end were gone; Gutknecht said work would focus on the south end for the next day or two.

Broken glass remained on a slanted section on the bridge's north end as pedestrians and cyclists peered through a mesh fence put up to keep them from getting too close.

So far, removal crews have cleared cars from parts of the bridge that fell onto land. They have equipment positioned to start major debris removal once the recovery efforts are finished.

The confirmed death toll from the bridge collapse stands at eight after divers recovered three bodies on Thursday and Friday.

About 100 people were injured in the collapse, but only eight remained hospitalized, their conditions ranging from serious to good.
Read more

In '98 bond vote, backers referred to Trinity toll road - Documents contradict claims of toll road 'bait and switch'

By BRUCE TOMASO - The Dallas Morning News - Sat., August 11, 2007

Opponents of the Trinity River toll road say city leaders pulled a fast one nine years ago, promising Dallas voters a beautiful downtown park and delivering a hideous highway instead.

They accuse the city of a "bait-and-switch," contending that when voters approved a 1998 bond issue for Trinity River improvements, they thought they were voting for a "parkway," a sort of Turtle Creek Boulevard by the river – while what's being planned instead is a multi-lane, high-speed freeway, something closer in concept to the Dallas North Tollway.

But a review of city and state documents, court records, news coverage and campaign materials put out by both sides in the months before the 1998 bond vote shows clearly that the city intended to build a tollway inside the levees.

Those records, thousands of pages of them, show that city officials and state transportation planners thought a major reliever route was needed to alleviate traffic congestion downtown and along Stemmons Freeway.

"I can tell you unequivocally and emphatically that we never, ever misrepresented the nature of what was being proposed. We were proposing a highway," said former Mayor Ron Kirk, who pushed hard for passage of the Trinity bonds in 1998.

"In everything we communicated, we made that clear to voters. And the opponents of this project know that. If they're saying otherwise, it's totally disingenuous."

Ballot language

But Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, the driving force behind a November referendum to kill the toll road, said if anyone's being disingenuous, it's Mr. Kirk and his allies. She points again and again to the language on the May 2, 1998, ballot, which described the project only as the "Trinity Parkway and related street improvements."

"If the people who support this road are so certain that everyone understood that what was being proposed was a huge, high-speed toll road with no direct access to the park, then why in the heck wasn't that on the ballot?" Ms Hunt said.

"If what you intend to build is a high-speed toll road, to describe that to voters as a 'parkway' – there's something purposefully deceptive in that."

A lawsuit brought by environmentalists in 2000 unsuccessfully sought to halt the Trinity project on those very grounds. The suit argued that city leaders had altered the project substantially after voters approved the 1998 bond issue.

"Bait-and-switch is a perfect description," James Blackburn, the Houston lawyer who represented the environmentalists, said last week. "They called it a 'parkway' for a reason. If they had called it a toll road, it might never have been approved."

The environmentalists lost that argument, however. On Sept. 18, 2001, state District Judge Anne Ashby ruled in the city's favor, saying the bond proposition "constitutes a valid contract with the voters."

The Court of Appeals in Dallas upheld the city's position on June 6, 2002. The appellate court ruled that there was no reason a "Trinity Parkway" couldn't be a multi-lane, high-speed tollway, if that's what the City Council wanted to build.

"There is nothing in the language of the proposition that defines the specific number of lanes, speed limit, or configuration," the appellate court wrote. "Rather, specific parameters are not included, most likely so that the city would have the needed discretion to define the specific roadway as all the component parts come together."

In addition to the road, the $246 million bond package called for construction of a downtown park with lakes; flood-control improvements; acquisition of hardwood bottomlands south of downtown in the Great Trinity Forest; and other recreational amenities.

Ms. Hunt said that today, as she goes around talking to voters, "when I say, 'Do you know they're building a toll road where we're supposed to have our downtown park?' they look at me in disbelief. They look at me and say, 'What are you talking about? That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard.' "

Voters may indeed decide this fall that building the Trinity toll road is a dumb idea. And many of them thought it was a dumb idea nine years ago.

The Trinity bonds were narrowly approved – by fewer than 2,400 votes. Ten other bond proposals – for things like parks and playgrounds, a new police headquarters, a fire station, libraries and an animal shelter – won overwhelming public support.

"One of the major points of public debate back in 1998 was the toll road," said Craig Holcomb, the former Dallas City Council member who supported the bond issue and who now leads the group opposing Ms. Hunt's referendum.

"People who voted against the Trinity bonds weren't opposed to the Great Trinity Forest. They weren't opposed to an equestrian center. The controversy was about the toll road."

The list of documents that identified the Trinity Parkway as a planned toll road before the May bond vote is a lengthy one:

•The city printed 20,000 booklets (5,000 in Spanish, 15,000 in English) to distribute to voters in advance of the election. The 18-page booklet summarized all the propositions on the ballot. The summary of Proposition 11, the one to authorize the Trinity bonds, described the proposed Trinity Parkway as "a 6-8 lane reliever route" and said: "This project is under consideration by the North Texas Tollway Authority for development as a toll facility."

•On Nov. 5, 1997, the City Council was briefed on "Trinity Corridor Transportation Improvements." Printed materials for that briefing discussed options for speeding up construction of the Trinity Parkway by building it "as a toll facility."

•In the weeks leading up to the election, supporters of the bond issue mailed out slick color brochures to about 75,000 households, urging voters to approve the bonds. The brochures could not have portrayed the Trinity project in more glowing terms. They included watercolor drawings of sailboats on the downtown lake, a bubbling fountain, bicyclists, street vendors, a couple in a canoe. (There is nothing in the drawings that looks anything like a highway.) The brochures likened the Trinity project to "San Antonio's bustling Riverwalk ... New York's beautiful Central Park ... Austin's scenic Town Lake."

Yet, even this exuberantly flattering brochure made it clear to anyone who read the text that "a system of tollroads" was part of the deal.

•A political ad purchased by opponents of the Trinity project was published in The Dallas Morning News on April 28, 1998, four days before the bond vote. The ad urged voters to reject the bond proposition. One reason: "Proposed eight-lane tollway inside the levee would increase pollution."

•In the 10 months preceding the 1998 bond election, there were at least 27 news stories, four editorials, two letters to the editor and two "op-ed" commentaries in The News that described the road as a toll road.

Both commentaries were written by environmentalists who opposed the Trinity project. One called the project the "mayor's exorbitant scheme" and said it included "costly, dangerous, polluting toll roads inside the levees." The other said, "The construction of an eight-lane tollway within the levee system ... isn't economically or environmentally sensible."

•Jim Schutze, a columnist for the Dallas Observer, wrote a lengthy story denouncing the Trinity project on Jan. 22, 1998 – 14 weeks before the election. Today, Mr. Schutze echoes the line of Ms. Hunt's group, TrinityVote, that what happened back in 1998 was a bait-and-switch – a phrase he used in an Aug. 2 appearance on KERA-FM (90.1). "This was presented to people as a park and lakes and sailboats," he told KERA's listeners.

But his 1998 story made it clear that he, at least, was aware that the Trinity bond proposal called for a toll road. In it, he referred to the role of the North Texas Tollway Authority ("a bunch of road hucksters hungry for work"). He described the toll road's route and how it would be built using fill dirt excavated from the riverbed. And he talked about how financing for the transportation aspect of the Trinity project was critical to the project's overall completion.

"Without the road money," he wrote, "the river plan doesn't work financially."

Mr. Schutze did not return telephone calls or e-mail messages seeking his comment for this story.

•Elsewhere, the Observer, on April 23, 1998, described the Trinity project as "a fetid, mosquito-infested lake in a treeless park bounded by expressways – all paid for with taxes."

Former Mayor Laura Miller, who succeeded Mr. Kirk in office, was running for the City Council for the first time in that same May 1998 election. (She would win and go on to represent an Oak Cliff district.)

As a candidate, she opposed the Trinity bond project.

That's because she didn't like the toll road, she said last week.

"We all knew there was a highway in the river bottom," she said. "And I didn't like anything about it, and I said so loud and clear."

In 2003, as mayor, she led an effort to revamp the toll road design, making it more environmentally sensitive. The new design, unanimously adopted by the City Council that December, reduced the number of lanes and shifted them all to the downtown side of the river, providing unfettered access to the river park from the Oak Cliff side.

Ms. Miller, now a strong supporter of the Trinity project, said she is "frustrated and dismayed" by the current efforts of Ms. Hunt and her supporters to undo that work.

Agency study

Those who accuse the city of a bait-and-switch often point to a March 1998 study by the Texas Department of Transportation, the "Trinity Parkway Corridor Major Transportation Investment Study." That thick document offers a comprehensive look at the city's downtown traffic woes and transportation needs.

That study does describe the proposed Trinity Parkway as something akin to what Ms. Hunt's group has in mind – "a lower speed parkway design rather than a freeway design," with a posted speed limit of 45 mph. (Her referendum would limit any road inside the levees to two lanes in each direction and a speed limit of 35 mph.)

However, on the next page, the study said: "Some or all of the Trinity Parkway reliever route could be constructed using toll funding" – a decision, in fact, that the city had already made by March 1998.
And if that happened, the study said, "some design changes could be necessary," meaning the road would have to be built as a high-speed, multi-lane freeway, to move more cars more quickly.

"No one is going to pay a toll to drive 35 miles an hour," Paul Wageman, chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority, said in an interview last week.

Ms. Hunt, however, reiterated that if the city wanted to build a high-speed toll road providing little access to the park, it should have just said so.

"If that was the case, then that can be stated on the ballot
," she said. "Why not be honest with people?"

Ray Hutchison, who represented the city in the 2000 lawsuit brought by Mr. Blackburn, said general, even vague, language is common in bond proposals. (Mr. Hutchison's firm, Vinson & Elkins, also employs Mr. Kirk, the former mayor.)

"You've got a lot of discretion in the issuance of bonds in how you frame the proposition," said Mr. Hutchison, a nationally recognized expert in public finance law.

"But once you frame the proposition, you're stuck with it."

He said, for example, that if the City Council issued bonds "for the improvement of Main Street between Harwood and Ervay, it couldn't turn around and use the money for repairs on Elm Street."

But if the proposition just said, "for downtown street improvements," the council would have the leeway to use the money where it saw fit.

In the case of the Trinity Parkway, he said, the proposition intentionally said nothing about what sort of road should be built. "That is a matter for the City Council to decide."

Planning for what would become the Trinity River project began in 1996. In the summer of that year, Mr. Kirk hosted a summit of state, local and federal officials to discuss improvements within the river corridor. The city established a Trinity River Corridor Project Management Office. Its first director was appointed in January 1997.

By mid-1997, the city was evaluating a comprehensive, $1 billion plan, devised by the Texas Department of Transportation, to address downtown traffic woes.

One element of that plan: the nine- to 10-mile-long Trinity Parkway.

As early as that summer, there were public discussions of building that parkway as a toll road.

The main advantage of that approach, Dallas city officials were told, was that a toll road could get financed much more quickly, shaving years off the completion schedule.

With conventional funding, collected in the form of gasoline taxes and dribbled out annually by the state, design and construction of the road was expected to take at least 13 years – and probably longer. Dallas would stand in line, along with other Texas cities, for a share of that highway money.

But as a toll road, where the tolls paid by motorists help pay back construction costs, the Trinity parkway could be built in as little as eight to 10 years, state officials said.

"We're going to have to look at a toll road. It may be the key to getting things going along the Trinity," Alan Walne, then a Dallas City Council member, said at a council meeting on Aug. 20, 1997. Three weeks later, the council unanimously endorsed the state plan, including the Trinity toll road.

Although a formal contract between the city and the North Texas Tollway Authority regarding financing of the road wasn't finalized until January 1999, in principle, the City Council had agreed by the fall of 1997: The Trinity Parkway would be a toll road. That would necessarily mean a higher speed, and more lanes, and less direct access to the park than what many environmentalists wanted.

From then on, a high-speed toll road "was always intended to be a key, integral piece" of the downtown traffic solution, said Timothy Nesbitt, a project manager in the Dallas district of the Texas Department of Transportation.

"To claim, 'We didn't know about it, you disguised it' – it was never disguised."A color brochure that Trinity bond supporters mailed to voters in the spring of 1998 showed sailboats, blue skies, a green park ... but no highway or cars in the park. The text of the brochure, however, mentioned that the project included "a system of tollroads." A March 1998 report from the Texas Department of Transportation (above right) described the proposed Trinity Parkway as a low-speed road, but added "some design changes could be necessary" if it were built as a toll road instead.

Newspaper ads taken out by opponents of the 1998 Trinity bond proposal show they knew what they were fighting against: an "eight-lane tollway inside the levee."

But the ballot language for the bond proposal described the planned road only as "the Trinity Parkway." Critics contend that this was misleading, particularly because city officials already knew they were considering a high-speed, multi-lane toll road.
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Eastbound I-30 access at Collins closed for bridge inspection

By MITCH MITCHELL - Fort Worth Star Telegram - Sun., Aug. 12, 2007

In 1984, Fort Worth driver watched as bridge fell in front of her car

By BUD KENNEDY - Star-Telegram staff writer -Sun, Aug. 12, 2007

Carol Solberg still remembers the day the bridge came down.

But it was in Fort Worth, not Minnesota.

And the falling concrete that 1984 day just missed the Arlington woman's station wagon -- and along with it, her pregnant sister.

Almost a quarter-century later, Solberg can recall every detail of the day she was driving a bakery delivery to Fort Worth when a bridge over Interstate 20 collapsed.

A water truck's trailer came loose and slammed into pillars supporting the Campus Drive bridge near what is now Tarrant County College.

The bridge fell behind the front seat of a Chevy sedan just ahead of Solberg's car. It flattened the back half of the car but missed the driver, Eldora Caffey, 25, of Fort Worth by scant inches. I couldn't reach her last week.

At the time, state highway officials called it the worst bridge collapse in modern Texas history. Since then, eight motorists were killed in the 2001 collapse of the causeway to South Padre Island, and one toddler died in 2002 when a bridge fell onto Interstate 45.

Solberg, now 55 and retired as an owner of Austin Bakery in Arlington, was delivering cakes to a Target store on South Hulen Street on July 11, 1984.

Riding with her was her sister, Patty Conti, who was three months pregnant.

"It didn't come down with a 'Bam!'" Solberg said. "It unrolled, like a ribbon. It just rolled down."

"I remember being scared," she said. Not about the bridge, but "about all the people behind me and whether they could stop."

All she could see ahead was a chunk of bridge, in pieces only a foot above the Interstate 20 pavement. Then she figured out why the bridge didn't drop that final foot.

Somebody shouted: "There's a car under there!"

Rescuers freed Caffey from her half-crushed car and reported that she was only slightly hurt.

"I remember thinking, 'God, I'm really going to die,'" Caffey told reporters.

The runaway trailer came from a water truck owned by a Dallas company and struck the bridge at just the right spot to knock a pier loose, engineers said back then. In 2002, a similar crash caused the fatal collapse of the Texas 14 bridge over Interstate 45.

"One piece fell, then another, then another," Solberg remembered this week, describing the collapse in almost exactly the same words she used in 1984 interviews. The bridge fell from north to south, burying the westbound freeway lanes.

No cars were on the bridge, and no Campus Drive motorists were quoted in the story. As it does today, the bridge linked the college and car dealerships along the north access road of Southeast Loop 820 with shops along the south access road. The bridge wasn't busy until 1987, when a wholesale club went up nearby. The overpass was only 15 years old and was later redesigned and rebuilt as part of freeway widening.

"It doesn't bother me to go through there anymore," Solberg said. "But I still think about it."

The collapse "definitely wasn't anywhere near as bad as in Minneapolis," Solberg said. "Nobody was up on top."

A moment sooner, she said, and "we would have been trapped underneath. There was just a tiny gap between us and that bridge."

Six months later, Patty Conti gave birth to a daughter.

Anna, 22, now has a finance degree from Texas Christian University.

And a story to tell for years to come.

Read more

Fair Use

FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Material from diverse and sometimes temporary sources is being made available in a permanent unified manner, as part of an effort to advance understanding of the social justice issues associated with eminent domain and the privatization of public infrastructure. It is believed that this is a 'fair use' of the information as allowed under section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 USC Section 107, the site is maintained without profit for those who access it for research and educational purposes. For more information, see: To use material reproduced on this site for purposes that go beyond 'fair use', permission is required from the copyright owner indicated with a name and an Internet link at the end of each item. [NOTE: The text of this notice was lifted from]

See ARCHIVE on side bar

Content is being archived weekly. Many pertinent articles regarding Transportation in the DFW Region are in the archives.

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. - Thomas Jefferson

The Opnions On this Site are Diverse

DFW Regional Concerned Citizens attempts to examine issues from all directions. When a story says "By Faith Chatham" it contains my viewpoint. When it is by others, but posted by Faith Chatham, it is from someone else's viewpoint. When I discover contents which is on topic for this site, I frequently link to other sites. Usually those sites contain content which differs from my viewpoint (and frequently that of other members of DFW-RCC).