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As Dallas moves into the 21st century, I see an opportunity for the Trinity River to redefine us as a city. Like any redefining project, it will not happen overnight but if we are thoughtful, diligent and focused on our future, we will see a great plan unfold. Each of us wants the Trinity River to be more than what it is. We want parks; we want lakes; and we want trails; we want to transform the river into a vital component that builds onto a vibrant core of our community rather than the barrier it has become. How we develop this corridor will be one of the most important things we as city leaders do.
For the most part, I found that people are aligned behind those goals but there is a division over our transportation strategy. While running for mayor, I knew then as I know now that my decision on the parkway would be important but I personally wanted to take time to study and think on this issue. Why has it taken me this long? There are many smart people with differing opinions of this multi-sided issue. I respect them and wanted to understand their point of view. I’ve listened to experts, citizens, regionalists, urbanites – young and old. For me it was an important process as I started to come to my own independent point of view. This has not been simple because I seem to agree with everyone and with all of their sentiments: I want more beauty and nature; I want less traffic; I want less concrete; I want
cleaner air and less pollution caused by auto emissions. And I am empathic that city tax dollars on transportations systems benefit the citizens of Dallas not people living elsewhere. So I needed to simplify my exploration by asking 3 big questions: 1. Safety – is the parkway safe to build? If it is not, it’s a showstopper and we must not proceed. 2. Beauty – will the parkway compromise the aesthetics that we all want for our corridor and will it delay the construction of the trails and lake? I am most excited about these possibilities than any road. And lastly,
3. Money – what is the city’s financial commitment? It is a big part of our decision and I want to make sure we are good stewards of tax dollars. After listening to people and exploring the answers to these questions, the picture is becoming clearer to me. Some of my questions remain unanswered but I do have a vision on what I think is best. But while working through this subject, I discovered a more important question: what type of city do we want to become? This question must be answered prior to answering the parkway question. My vision is threefold – first I envision a vibrant city with a high quality of life consisting of arts, culture, recreational and beauty. Strong neighborhoods with strong schools with low crime and connected by bike lanes and walking paths. Contributing to
the high quality of life is the ability to move easily between your home and work and then back in time for family dinner without the frustration of traffic gridlock. Believe it or not, Dallas has always been one of the easiest places to move around and that adds to the high quality of life that I see for this city. Secondly, we must be one city rather than two. We’ve had north Dallas, and we’ve had the southern sector. Until we think and act as one city, we will not maximize our potential. The Trinity River Corridor Project and the decisions we make about it must unify all parts of the city from Frankford Road in the north all the way to UNT-Dallas’s University Hills Blvd in the south. What we do in the core doesn’t just impact the center of the city it will impact us all, and we must listen to all citizens. And what we decide must be an enabler for growing Southern Dallas.
Finally, I also want a city that grows. We must constantly be attracting new citizens and new businesses. We must be a city that is not isolated but rather is connected to the entire region. And while I’m a regionalist, I still want to be competitive within our region. As we have seen in the past, other cities in the metroplex are quick to capitalize on the mistakes that we as a city make; whether its sports teams or headquarters for major corporations, in Dallas, we must make sure we put our most competitive foot forward with every decision we make. Because Dallas is perfectly located in the center of United States, we can attract companies that see us as a logistics hub and the decisions that we make today will ensure we do not limit the effectiveness of projects like the inland port.
I want Dallas to reinvent the 21st century city; I want a city that has both strong neighborhoods but maintains its international appeal. I want a city that you can walk to the store but at the same time major logistics companies can flow their goods through our city limits. I want a city that is growing but with clean air. Frankly, I don’t want to be L.A. covered in concrete and with the poor air quality. And on the other hand, as much as I love Austin, I don’t want to be that type of city with the major traffic gridlock they experience everyday just because they didn’t come to terms with the problems they faced. To become that new city, we must think about transportation in a diverse and logical fashion because one size does not fit all. As we move into the 21st century, our city leaders
recognized this and worked to bring forth a multi-modal transportation solution. This is the framework for sustainable, livable and urban communities especially along the Trinity River Corridor. It utilizes a balanced network employing all modes of transportation that will support economic development opportunities. Such examples include: Approximately 17.3 miles of funded bike facilities are anticipated to be completed by April 2013 with several scheduled to begin this June. An on-street bicycle connection is planned through downtown to link the Katy Trail and The Santa Fe Trail to be completed this Fall. The planned I-30 bridge over the Trinity will have enhanced bicycle and pedestrian accommodations connecting the City Trail System.
The Continental Bridge will be converted to a linear Park, which bicycles and pedestrians can use to cross the Trinity River. S.M. Wright is planned to be reconstructed as a urban boulevard with an adjacent bike /pedestrian trail that will help in the rebuilding the surrounding South Dallas community. (TXDOT led project). Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard one the primary corridors serving Fair Park has recently installed the first on-street bicycle markings and signage with planned connections to the Trinity River Corridor Project. The City has two streetcar projects under development. The TIGER Streetcar Line (Union Station to Methodist Hospital) is planned to go under construction in Spring 2013 with revenue service in October 2014.
The Urban Circulator Project (Olive to St. Paul Loop) is an extension into downtown of the McKinney Avenue Line scheduled to begin construction this summer with revenue service scheduled for July 2013. One can argue that we need even more and we need them faster, but it is not true to characterize our transportation plans as one dimensional. These are great plans that will help lay the foundation as that 21st century. When it comes to transportation, the one thing we must do is be intellectually honest with each other about the problems we face. We may not always agree on the solutions but hopefully we all see our problems. And fellow citizens we have a big problem. Our traffic on I-35 south of downtown is bad and it’s getting worse. The north part of I-35 is bad also.
I’ve spoken with hundreds of people about this issue and no one disputes the fact that we must deal with this traffic issue. It’s hurting us individually and it’s hurting our chances to grow our city and our neighborhoods. Let me explain, on a weekday 275,000 vehicles use the northern segment of I-35 – about 1/4 of a million use the canyon segment of I-30 and 200,000 use the southern portion of I-35, all converging on our city center. In twenty years, it is seen to easily grow by 30-40% meaning problems will continue to mount. Now some say these are people who are passing thru our city, interloping on our streets and our highways. Well that fact is not true. This claim is not accurate. Over 40% of the vehicles just mentioned are Dallas taxpayers and citizens, and they are not happy. The traffic congestion makes them late to a business
meeting, a flight at Love Field or to their children’s soccer games. And they want us to do something about it. We must do something now or we will become an afterthought. We will be less competitive within our region if goods cannot flow thru our city; we will choke economic development because businesses will not establish in areas without easy access; we will choke off our neighborhoods and workforce in our most important growth area: Southern Dallas. And we are choking on the air because of the pollution from the cars that sit in traffic jams. Some say that’s why growth is problematic. For those that feel that way and don’t want the city to grow, I can clearly state, I am not your Mayor and you may not feel comfortable in Dallas
over the long haul because we are going to grow. The challenge is to grow smart while keeping the high quality of life we all want. So that brings us back to the questions I want to answer in regards to whether we should build the parkway in the Trinity corridor: Are we going to be safe, beautiful and cost efficient? After considering those three questions, I believe building the parkway inside the levees, alternative 3C, is the right thing for the future of Dallas. Previous city councils over the last eight years have been wise in their choices and for that we should be thankful. First, it is safe. It will not marginalize the flood protection that our levees provide. If we weren’t going to be safe, this would have been a nonstarter for me. And after speaking with Brigadier General Kula of the US Army Corps earlier this week and reading Colonel
Richard Muraski’s letter which states, “the levees, as they stand today … are more resilient than originally evaluated,” we can start to develop and build this road. Brigadier General Kula also told me that he brought in additional teams over the last year and studied our issue closely. They found that the levees were much stronger than they ever expected and he told me that their final report, coming out at the end of next month, will show that we can proceed with confidence in regards to the safety issues in building this road. Now that we have a judgment from the Corps, we can move onto the second issue: the beauty of the river, the lake and our trails. I have asked the city manager to begin as soon as possible to accelerate the plan on the lake and trails near downtown. As I mentioned earlier, this is a multi-step process and while the
Balanced Vision Plan will not be complete in the next 3 or 4 years, I am committed to have a lake and trails that access the lake from the Oak Cliff side of the Trinity corridor by 2015. This will be the foundation for things that will be coming in future years. Another critical statement of the parkway is “I don’t want to see this toll road when I’m down in the park” and I agree with you: I don’t either. I have been assured that because of the walls built around the parkway in the central corridor of the Trinity floodway, you will not see this road from the downtown park and anything short of that is unacceptable to me. But I think it’s important to remember the parkway is typically less than 12% of a huge floodway width. Lastly, it’s a question of economics. The citizens of Dallas have authorized tax revenues to support bonds for the parkway
and the bonds have been obligated. This project will be funded primarily from non-city funding sources: users of the road as well as state and federal transportation dollars. So this is not a question of whether we should spend this money on a toll road or libraries; this is a false choice. The question is: Are we going to authorize highway organizations to utilize their money on our city land? And it is our job to work with them and shape this project the way we, the city of Dallas, really want it to be. Lastly, if we take the point of view that we should all be stewards of any taxpayer money (state, federal or local) then building the parkway inside the levees as discussed in plan 3C, the combined riverside alignment, is the best value. Plan 3C is estimated to cost $1.4 billion and can be completed by 3 years
after start of construction. With plan 3C, because we are building on available land, we will essentially avoid the complicated legally embroiled eminent domain process that will invariably come with the Irving/Riverfront alternatives that displace hundreds of businesses along Riverfront; thereby creating the loss of thousands of jobs. Plan 3C is the most cost effective choice. The alternative plans cost more and will take too long. But more importantly, it will be disruptive and will displace the community. So Plan 3C, the Combined Parkway-Riverside, is the only practicable option because it costs less and it is quicker to complete. In addition, it is also safe and we will have our recreational features such as a lake and trails; we will have our
beauty and the financial returns to the citizens of Dallas are significant. If we build this parkway traffic issues begin to be mitigated. This parkway will carry an average 25% of the traffic that snarls our canyon. The benefit of time and cleaner air is very clear. I plan to provide my formal comment to NTTA that I believe this is the right choice. But our work must start with the right attitude. First, we must realize that not all the details are perfectly planned at this point. A good example of that, one issue that is important to me, is designing this road to directly solve the issues that I discussed; we must connect the parkway with 35 as soon possible. Senator West and other leaders in Southern Dallas have been pushing this and I wholeheartedly agree with them. A more
detailed plan must be developed for that. We must continue to raise private money to enhance our lake system and have the amenities that we all long for. Where that money is coming must yet be discovered. And we must have enough access to our green space. Over, under the parkway, we will learn the best way to do that. In future years, I hope to add additional deck parks over the parkway like the one planned at Reunion Blvd and like Woodall Rodgers. So for future generations, you might not even see the parkway in key spots of downtown. How this project is funded is still in the works but Dallas has never been held back from a vision if we really set our mind to it. So all of these plans must continue to be worked on and we will discuss that process in the coming months.
We must have the attitude that embraces growth. We can’t say and we shouldn’t say to drivers explicitly or implicitly “Go somewhere else, drive around Dallas, go through another city.” It’s that attitude that loses us big opportunities each and every time. We need to say “Invest in Dallas;” we need to say “drive through our great city and stop a while”. Building this parkway is imperative. Lastly an attitude of continual improvement is important. To those that oppose this idea, I respect your beliefs, but I would ask you to use your energy to hold us and our city leaders accountable to the high standards that we are setting for this project. Help us continue to improve our plans and never let us back down on our promises.
I don’t really love roads; I don’t think many of us do. But if done right, they can be a major catalyst for growth. Just ask the pioneer who settled on the Trinity because he knew this would be a transportation hub. We must help Dallas, and especially southern Dallas, to grow by continuing to be that hub. We can employee thousands of jobs for Dallasites and Dallas based companies in building this project. We can build a beautiful Trinity River. We can do all of these things. But we must work together and have a sense of urgency. We must stop talking and get it done now.
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