What You Should Know About the Trinity River Project

The Trinity River Project can best be summarized as a big mess.

Allegations over Mayor Leppert and other planners withholding information in order to advance the project might be the latest in a string of bad omens for the project, but for those who haven't been following the drama, here's the Cliff's Notes version:

When the Trinity River Project was first presented to voters in 1998, it's goal was to more tightly intergrate the Trinity River into Dallas' urban center with a proposed park, toll road, bridge, and recreation system. To this date, the project is still considered to be the largest urban park development -- but construction has been significantly slowed.

The bridge system, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, has made some progress; heavy construction on the Margret Hunt Hill Bridge started last year, and plans to have the iconic arch up by this summer are likely to go on, regardless of concerns over the levee system. Once the first bridge is completed in 2011, the second of five planned bridges should begin soon after.

What's likely to delay any future construction is a reported defect in the levee system recently found by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that will cause minor delays on the already under construction Hunt Hill Bridge, but could change the plans for a toll road dramatically.

The latest plans for the toll road force the construction to be within the floodplain of the Trinity River, causing concerns if or when a significant flooding event occurs. Plans to fix the levees before construction have been met with opposition as it will significantly increase the cost of the project, though some council members like Angela Hunt claim "the toll road project is dead" unless levee concerns are addressed.

Recreational plans for the park have changed as well, with some developers unable to begin projects due to zoning issues and previously built buildings in the area. Though a system of trails and recreational parks was initially proposed, very little has been completed; an Audubon center opened October 2008 and construction has begun on many of the trails, but hikers, bikers, and others have yet to set foot on most areas.

Progress on the project has been hindered by many elements, including the previously mentioned levee and flood issues, which has lead many critics to believe those in favor of the project have planned poorly and possibly even withheld information to further the agenda. A recent city council meeting had members like Angela Hunt and Mitchell Rasansky directly accusing Mayor Tom Leppert and other planners of revealing all the information they had access to. Writer Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer has criticised plans for the project  and has been probing each twist and turn for years.

It's truly a big mess with many questioning when the project will actually begin to take visible shape, what the cost will finally be, and when, if ever, the plan can be completed. Yet, after years of questions, complaints, and minor achievements, the average Dallas resident has one message for city leaders: "Don't waste our tax money."

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