Photo by Rachel Stone

Dallas City Council voted this week to spend $10.7 million in fees to Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who will design and build pedestrian and bicycle components for a new bridge to replace the Interstate 30 bridge. Both Oak Cliff city council members, Delia Jasso and Dave Neumann, voted in favor of the spending.

But Neumann’s opponent in the May election, attorney Scott Griggs, says he would have voted against it.

In total, the planned Margaret McDermott Bridge is estimated to cost $314 million. Hiring Calatrava for only the pedestrian and bike ways, and allowing the Texas Department of Transportation to build the rest, reduced the cost, which had been estimated at $500 million.

City council voted 13-1 in favor of the Calatrava fee, the money for which comes from several sources: $5 million is from an anonymous private donation, $2.1 million comes from money left over in Calatrava’s original contract, and $3.5 million comes from bonds, which are expected to be repaid through regional transportation fees.

District 14 City Councilman Angela Hunt was the only dissenting vote. Her main concern: the state’s transportation department has said Dallas might not get $92 million in federal funds for the bridge because of pressure from tea partiers to end federal earmarks.

Hunt says the city should allow the transportation department to build a “plain vanilla” bridge and save taxpayer money amid its economic woes.

“I do believe that in these economic times, it doesn’t make sense to spend extra tax dollars, public funds, taxpayer money on elaborate architectural construction when we have real infrastructure needs,” Hunt said during the Wednesday city council meeting.

Griggs, who aims to unseat District 3 councilman Dave Neumann, agrees with that take. The cost of a basic Texas Department of Transportation bridge is about $170 million, and “with all the bells and whistles”, it would be about $220 million.

It would be great to have the signature Calatrava-designed bridge triplets, as planned. But asking taxpayers to pay Calatrava $3.5 million is outrageous considering recent funding cuts and a property tax hike, he says.

“We need to live within our means, and there is a question as to where this money is going to come from,” Griggs says, noting the questionable $92 million earmark.

Neumann believes spending on Calatrava will create economic development.

“Clearly, we need to step forward and say we need more than a standard … bridge,” Neuman said Wednesday. “An improved, signature style Margaret McDermott Bridge will bring economic development to West Dallas.”

During the same meeting, Neumann voted in favor of a specific use permit that allows another scrap metal yard in West Dallas.

The Dallas Morning News editorial board urged council to deny that permit:

The proposed business runs diametrically opposed to what West Dallas can and should be. In recent years, the city has widened Singleton, stepped up code enforcement, cut acres of weeds and leveled drug houses. Recently, an innovative planning group, the City Design Studio, completed a long-range plan to encourage new retail and other development near Singleton — a process that took into account the desire of residents of the La Bajada and Los Altos neighborhoods near the soon-to-be-completed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge to preserve their communities. Dozens of nonprofit groups also have worked to improve housing and education in this area.

Yet, the City Plan Commission last May opted for more of the same when it approved the auto parts salvage yard, a project that isn’t remotely consistent with the vision for a cleaner, safer West Dallas. Since then, angry businesses and residents in West Dallas have forced council member Steve Salazar to delay council action.

Although the salvage yard is in Salazar’s District 6, it backs up to the Westmoreland Heights neighborhood, which is in Neumann’s District 3.

The last thing West Dallas needs is another scrap yard, Griggs says.

“We’re sending a mixed message for development in West Dallas,” he says. “You have to have a single vision for West Dallas.”