Trinity Vote campaign hopes to relocate tollway | KERA News

Trinity Vote campaign hopes to relocate tollway

Dallas, TX –

Sam Baker, Morning Edition Host: During Dallas elections, volunteers asked voters to sign a petition to change the Trinity River corridor project. The Trinity Vote campaign wants a citywide referendum November 6th to decide if a planned toll road should be built inside or outside the levees along the river. 90.1's Catherine Cuellar reports on the potential impact of the petition drive.

Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter: Flood protection and wetlands to preserve native animal and bird habitat along the Trinity River in Dallas are already under construction. An Audubon Interpretive Center will break ground this summer. Plans also include recreational fields and trails between the levees. The Trinity Vote petition drive, led by councilwoman Angela Hunt, wants to relocate the Trinity Parkway outside the levees, saying the toll road would detract from other park amenities. But former city councilman Craig Holcomb is leading private fundraising efforts for the Trinity project. He says the TrinityVote argument is not that simple.

Craig Holcomb, Trinity Commons Foundation: In 1998 we pulled together people who really were concerned about transportation, people who really were concerned about flood protection, people who really wanted the Great Trinity Forest, people who really wanted lakes, people who thought this would bring economic development to Oak Cliff. They all worked together and we passed the bond program. Most of those people feel very strongly that there was a commitment to do the entire program and that to start pulling one piece out and not doing it invalidates that election.

Cuellar: But even today, nine years after Dallas voters approved bond money for the Trinity Project, plans for the tollway are not set in stone. Gene Rice is the Army Corps of Engineers project manager for the upper Trinity River Basin.

Gene Rice, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: The current schedule for the Dallas Floodway Study is for completion of a final feasibility report in August 2008. The vote or the proposed vote, we don't think it wouldn't have a large impact on us as we have made some assumptions that keep moving along with our project.

Cuellar: Kevin Feldt of the North Texas Tollway Authority agrees.

Kevin Feldt, NTTA: An alignment outside of the levees is one of the alignments we are studying along with several alignments within the levee. As far as the timing goes, the project is moving forward with or without the pending petition and pending election.

Cuellar: Former state representative Harryette Ehrhardt doesn't generally approve of referendums. But she made an exception for the Trinity Vote petition drive.

Hon. Harryette Ehrhardt, TrinityVote: The people that we elected who serve us now weren't even around when this decision was made some years ago, so they didn't have reason to be well-educated on this issue, and secondly, I really think we've been deceived, and when people's representative elected officials are not responding to what the people they work for asked to have done, then we need to take those things into our own hands.

Cuellar: U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson says she's not concerned about the petition drive. Congress is making progress on funding for flood protection. She doesn't buy the notion that the TrinityVote campaign would jeopardize federal funding for the project.

U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson: I'm never anti people doing a vote. It hasn't been voted on before. So I guess that's the right of people if that's what they want to do. There really is no impact because what we're doing through water resources is different than what is being discussed about the tollways.

Cuellar: The TrinityVote group has until June 28 to collect about 50,000 signatures.
For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar