State Sen. John Carona does not seem to be the kind of person who would support the Trinity River toll road. For one thing, he hates toll roads — so much so, in fact, that he has not only forcefully supported legislation to prevent new ones from being built, but will introduce a constitutional amendment to force the Legislature to spend gas tax money on highway construction and maintenance.
So why is Carona, a Republican whose district includes part of Lake Highlands (and is a long-time fan of the Advocate, he told me), supporting the toll road? "We can’t build it as a free road," he says. "The state doesn’t have the money." Does he wish otherwise? Yes, says Carona, who would prefer a free road to be outside the park. But that isn’t practical.
And there, I think, is one of the first truly straightforward assessments of the situation from the pro-toll road side. Forget everything else they are telling us, that the road won’t affect the park or that we knew about the road in 1998 or any of the stuff that comes up when Dallas’ Only Daily Newspaper shills for them. This is about building a highway to relieve Mixmaster congestion as part of the state’s Project Pegasus. The rest of it is irrelevant.
The pro-toll road people genuinely, passionately, fervently believe that Dallas will cease to be a great city if we don’t fix the Mixmaster, and that the only way to fix the Mixmaster is with the Trinity toll road. And how can those of us who believe otherwise be so blind? I have had more than one pro-toll road person tell me this (though not Carona), and all I could do was listen to them, slack-jawed.
And it gets better. Not only doesn’t the state or the federal government have enough money to build the highway as a free road outside the park, says Carona, but there isn’t any money to do it as a toll road inside the park. This means the Trinity project will almost certainly be a public-private project, similar to the proposed Texas 121-Cintra deal.
This means, says Carona, that the route chosen has to make financial sense for the private company doing the deal. The only "commerically viable" route, he says, is inside the park. I asked him this twice: Do you mean that the location of the highway will be determined by a private company’s profit requirements? And he said yes each time. If the route is outside the park, Carona told me, no private company will want to build the road because it will cost too much, and that would cut into its profit.
This is a staggering revelation (although a refreshingly candid one). It raises some fascinating questions: Why bother with the park charade in the first place? Will the road outside the park actually cost more? How did we get in such a bind that we need to hire private companies to do our roads? Why is a new highway the best solution for Mixmaster congestion? Will Dallas actually dry up and blow away if we don’t fix the Mixmaster?
It also answers a question: If you want the Trinity Park, vote against the toll road.