A successful highway revolt in Dallas? It’s looking like a distinct possibility as supporters of the Trinity Toll Road project continue to defect, leaving a lonely few against a growing coalition opposed to the highway.
The last few months have dealt a number of setbacks to the proposed $1.5 billion road, which would slice through the city from West Dallas to Oak Cliff, severing downtown from the Trinity River. In mid-November, Dallas area leaders gave up on trying to appeal to the state for financial support for the project. A week later, the Dallas Morning News wondered whether the embattled project would need to take a “time out.”
“In politics when you start asking everybody to stop for a second and let’s take a breather and nobody get too worked up and can’t we just talk about this for a little while — you’re losing,” wrote the paper’s Rudolph Bush, who noted the only high profile supporter remaining is city Mayor Mike Rawlings, and that may not be enough to carry it forward, since Dallas has a weak mayor system.
The project is still supported by some of the deep-pocketed shot-callers in the city’s business and development elite, but they have tended not to be very vocal. That’s not the case with the opposition, which seems to have the momentum. People living in nearby areas like Oak Cliff don’t want to see the quality of life in their neighborhoods subordinated to suburban driving convenience. And so, what used to feel like a total longshot might actually happen — Dallas might shelve a highway to retain the strength and cohesion of its neighborhoods.
Yesterday, the two sides of the debate squared off in a forum at a school in Oak Cliff. “Toll road debate draws hundreds of opponents, but few supporters,” went the headline in the Morning News. Today, former mayor Laura Miller came out against the highway in the paper, saying the road “should not be built at all.”
I spoke to Patrick Kennedy, a local planner who’s played a leading role in the highway opposition. He said his group is focused on organizing around what could be the deciding factor: City Council elections coming up in May. Right now highway opponents only have four votes out of 14 on the council, and they need eight if they hope to decisively kill the project. But with six council members who support the Trinity Toll Road being term-limited out of office, the elections to replace them could seal the highway’s fate.