Lots of neighborhood hopes are riding on the Trinity River Corridor Project. Those pushing the city’s $2.45 billion tollway and park initiative, with its accompanying amenities, promised the project would attract new businesses and residences along the levees, increasing property values in the neighborhood, and bringing together the northern and southern sections of Dallas.
When it was decided the Trinity tollway would be positioned on the downtown side of the river, many neighbors rejoiced, knowing that meant the park’s best access would be on the Oak Cliff side. That’s why a recently introduced plan to widen Beckley, where it intersects with Commerce, from two lanes to eight puzzles and frustrates neighbors.
“We worked really hard to get the Trinity tollway pushed to the downtown side, where we would be the green side of the river,” says Monte Anderson, a neighborhood resident and developer who owns the Belmont Hotel and some property on Beckley and I-30.
“What city planners have done is design a road that basically is a suburban, wide, car-oriented thoroughfare that’s going to divide the people of Oak Cliff from the Trinity lakes and the park.
“They’re gonna sacrifice Oak Cliff for the construction of the Mixmaster.”
Anderson is referring to Project Pegasus, a Texas Department of Transportation plan to redesign portions of I-30 and I-35 passing near downtown to improve traffic flow. Before construction begins, however, the I-30 bridge over the Trinity River will widen from six lanes to 12, says Rebecca Dugger, executive director of the Trinity River Corridor Project.
Three years will separate the completion of bridge construction (end of 2010) and the beginning of Project Pegasus construction (roughly 2013). For drivers heading east on I-30, Beckley is the last exit before heading into Canyon and Mixmaster traffic. In a 1997 Project Pegasus study, TxDOT identified the Beckley/Commerce intersection as “critical to let traffic flow through there” in terms of the “extra traffic coming off I-30,” Dugger says.
The Fort Worth Avenue Development Group first got wind of the plan to widen Beckley in early 2008, says Scott Griggs, the group’s president and Stevens Park Estates resident. When members finally saw the plan in September 2008, they pointed out to city officials that the project sits squarely inside the Fort Worth Avenue and West Commerce planned development district, but plans didn’t include the wide sidewalks, streetscaping and pedestrian-friendly aspects required by the ordinance.
When the final plans were released just before the first of the year, the sidewalks had been widened and streetscaping added, but “if you build a six-lane road, and you put the sidewalks right up on the road, no one wants to walk on those sidewalks,” Anderson says. “This is only designed to move cars.”
The Beckley/Commerce plan was presented to the city council’s Trinity River Corridor committee a week later, and would have gone before the full council for approval the following week in mid-January, but neighbors showed up at the committee meeting and voiced their disapproval. Those present credited councilmen Steve Salazar and Elba Garcia for encouraging a series of meetings on the plan before it evolves further.
“It was a pretty immediate and prompt vote to not approve the plan,” says Randall White, Stevens Park Estates resident and chairman of the Fort Worth Avenue TIF board. “Now, that can be temporary. It may come back up next month.”
Problems with the plan to widen Beckley aren’t limited to just sidewalk widths and tree plantings, opponents say. It has to do with linking transportation to land use, Griggs says. A major thoroughfare at Beckley would translate to buildings several hundred feet away from the road with big parking lots, he says, instead of high-density development that incorporates pedestrians, bicycle riders and streetcars.
“Trinity River amenities are going to be a block away, and they’re coming soon,” Griggs says. What the city is suggesting isn’t safe for pedestrians, and “we’re disconnecting people from the amenities,” he says.
Dugger says the Beckley/Commerce plan is “not ideal or even the final improvement to that intersection.” Ultimately, the city wants to move Beckley further away from the levee, but that would require expensive changes to the nearby Union Pacific railroad bridge. This plan would “get us through for the next 20 years until we can do ultimate build out,” she says.
And that line of thinking is exactly what frightens neighbors.
“Basically, they’ve got a temporary traffic problem, but the temporary solution is really going to have long-range impact,” White says. “It’s not only about volume and speed of traffic, but to make changes to accommodate that traffic, you’re making a nearly permanent decision about what streets are going to look like.
“It is going to create a regional issue; it’s not just one street. It’s also just a psychological turning of [the city’s] back to West Dallas and North Oak Cliff, which we don’t need more of. It has happened for too long.”
The Trinity River Corridor committee’s decision to hold a series of meetings prior to any further work on the plan includes a community-wide meeting, details of which will be posted on the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group’s website, fortworthavenue.org. The staff is ready to get the project out to bid, Griggs says, because several hundred thousand dollars already have been invested.
Plus, the clock on approaching construction is ticking.
“It’s one of those things where this intersection is just going to get a lot more traffic in the next few years. It’s just going to happen,” Dugger says.
“We’ve tried to accommodate pedestrian access with crosswalks, with sidewalks, and there are routes that you can get up to the levee … [but] you don’t have good pedestrian access right now, so to do nothing is not an option.”
When neighbors at the committee meeting asked the project engineer why he didn’t make way for bicycles in the design, the response was: “They didn’t tell us to. They just said move the traffic,” Anderson recalls.
The city’s transportation planners have no incentive to create designs that include alternative transportation, White says. That would require political will, and that comes only with “community outcry,” Anderson says.
“Our city council in Dallas has got to say, ‘We want to do this.’ The planners and city staff, they’re just doing what they’ve been told,” Anderson says.
“It just feels like if the people want something, why would you design something else, and if we’re the taxpayers and the stakeholders, then why won’t they listen?
“I think they think we’re talking about cute little outdoor restaurants. They don’t really take it seriously … and I don’t think they understand the seriousness and the impact of the decision they’re about to make.”
“I’m not some old bicycle hippie saying get rid of cars on the road,” Anderson says. But he and others want the city to give equal rights to cars, bicycles, pedestrians and trains or streetcars during planning.
As far as the city needing reliever roads for I-30 traffic, “if people sit in traffic long enough, they’ll start to live differently,” Anderson says, “go to work at 5 in the morning, live closer to work, ride the bus, and we’ll start to reduce the carbon impr
Dugger says planners and neighbors aren’t far apart, and the recent decision to hold additional meetings “isn’t going to be a huge delay. We feel like we can get together and see what their issues are, and come up with a consensus as far as what we can do — pedestrian safety and access as well as traffic safety.” She hopes to receive the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group’s endorsement of the project in time to award the contract in late February or early March for construction.
But in some neighbors’ eyes, consensus won’t be easy. For those who have taken a stand, this isn’t just a road construction project. It carries implications for the future of Oak Cliff and how our neighborhood will develop.
“We’ve had enough compromises. It’s time to do it right,” Anderson says.
“We either do it right, or we just forget it. This is not the kind of project you can compromise.”
TO VOICE YOUR OPINION about the Beckley/Commerce plan, contact Councilman Dave Neumann, chairman of the Trinity River Corridor Project committee, at 214.670.0776 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia, committee vice-chairman, at 214.670.4052 or email@example.com.