Angela Hunt: The wake of a toll road

The Trinity debate is over, but its legacy may not be

The Trinity Toll Road is dead. Now what?

That question has been on my mind since Aug. 9, when the Dallas City Council voted 13-2 to finally eliminate the specter that has been haunting the Trinity River for nearly two decades.

I could not be happier about the outcome. It was deeply rewarding to see such a bad idea finally meet its end.

But I must admit that there is something about this victory that feels incomplete.

Over the last 10 years, the toll road had been a battle that I felt personally obligated to see through to the end. I had reconciled myself to the fact that I might be fighting this thing for years to come. And now, suddenly, the battle is over.

It’s like arriving at your destination hours earlier than expected. You’re glad to be there, but now what?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I enjoyed the war so much that I’m having trouble returning to civilian life. No, I’d rather be building than battling. It’s just that I can’t shake the feeling that there is more left to do. That something has been left undone.

Part of this nagging feeling is that the fate of the Trinity Park is uncertain.

The same day the city council killed the toll road, it narrowly approved a hastily created “local government corporation” to oversee the future construction of the park. The prospect of someday beginning the Trinity Park should be cause for celebration — after all, the whole point of killing the toll road was to save the park.

But I’m skeptical of this local government corporation. It’ll be run by many of the same folks who have mishandled the Trinity Park for years. They seem poised to spend another decade planning an expensive, extravagant park while constructing little. Instead, we could be starting construction on the park today — building access points and trails, reestablishing natural habitat, all while using existing funds and the federally approved park plan. I fear that, instead, the park is going to languish. This troubles me.

But there is something else bothering me.

When the council finally voted to kill the toll road, people who had spent years vociferously advocating for it (or who had sat firmly on the sidelines unwilling to offend the powers-that-be) began offering their congratulations for the road’s defeat.

We would be petty not to graciously accept these displays of reconciliation. But we would be foolish to forget the history of this battle or ignore the distinction between those who favored the road and those of us who fought against it. Keeping score on this fight is not about holding grudges or gloating. It is about knowing whom to trust in the next fight.

See, those who continuously advocated for the toll road lied to us. Repeatedly and unrepentantly. So when they line up to lead this city in the future, I am not going to follow them. I do not trust their judgment, and neither should you.

For years, the toll road has served as a critical litmus test. Knowing where someone stood on this issue revealed their fundamental allegiances, alliances and values. Mayoral and council candidates who sounded identical in every other way could be differentiated by their position on the Trinity Toll Road. “Do you favor the Trinity Toll Road?” really meant: Will you be a yes-man to the mayor and the establishment? Will you do the bidding of the Dallas Citizens Council? When it’s time to make the tough calls, whose side will you be on?

I fear that now, it will be near impossible to find anyone willing to admit that they once supported the toll road. Even those who fought for years to keep it, even those who proudly fed the public misinformation, I predict they will now try to avoid the question if asked about their past support for the road and instead solemnly propose that it’s time for the city to move on.

It may be time to move on. But it’s not time to forget.

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