Trinity Tollway Critics: Focus on Levee Fixes

Inspections say levees are not high enough, have significant penetrations, damaged flood gates and other problems.

New details on the "unacceptable" rating of the Dallas Trinity River levees have provided critics of a proposed tollway along the river with more fuel.

The levees have insufficient height, significant penetrations that impact integrity, damaged flood gates, severe cracking, erosion and vegetation problems, according to information released Wednesday.

The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers said in February that 2008 and 2007 inspections rated the levees unacceptable.

The inspections come after years of delays on the Dallas Trinity River project, which voters first approved in 1998. It calls for levee extensions, parks and a toll road along the river. Supporters expect the project to attract redevelopment to boost the city tax roll.

The toll road was reaffirmed in a November 2007 referendum.  City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, who led a petition drive to put the toll road on that 2007 ballot, said Wednesday's information verifies her earlier concerns.

"We need to make the safety changes that we need to make to insure the safety of our citizens with regard to our levees rather than fixating on a toll road that seems to take year after year of delays," she.

Councilman Mitchell Rasansky, once a toll road supporter, joined Hunt's criticism.

"We need to take care of our levees before we think about a toll road in there," he said.

Dallas officials say the levee system has performed well in past floods, including in 1990, when there was more than 14 feet of levee height remaining before water would have flowed over the top.

The levees were rated "excellent" in federal inspections as recently as 2006.  But federal requirements have become more stringent since levee breaches in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Mayor Tom Leppert said he believes the entire project can move forward. The toll road that is proposed along the east levee may help solve the Corp. of Engineers' concerns.

"I hope that's the case, because it's going to save time," he said. "It's going to save dollars on it."

Leppert said his Tuesday visit to Washington, D.C., confirmed his position that there is no reason to eliminate any portions of the Trinity Project at this time.

"We'll continue, which was reinforced in my conversations yesterday," he said.

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