Your Basic Primer to Understanding the Trinity Toll Road

If you’re like the vast majority of Dallasites or metroplexians(???) you probably have a limited understanding of the Trinity toll road. It’s okay, it’s a complicated issue, and it’s hard not to get tired head reading about it, or turned off when you hear debates about it. Plus, you know, the Cowboys are on.

But it’s still an important issue and you don’t want to be the only person at the dinner party that doesn’t have at least an elementary understanding of it. So below is a very simple, short summary of the tollroad and the issues surrounding it.

What is it?

The Trinity toll road is a proposed 9 mile highway that would run along the Trinity River from southern Dallas to North Dallas.

Pages-from-TxDOT001Map of downtown freeways with the toll road

Why would we build it?

Proponents of the toll road say that building it will reduce traffic congestion in downtown and make it easier for people to get through, in, and out of downtown. Ultimately they view it as an economic driver for downtown and Dallas.

 trinityMore reasons.

What do the opponents say?

The opponent’s various arguments can be summed up in the following three ways.

  • Financial – It will cost a lot of money to build a highway in and along a river. More on this later.
  • Safety/Feasibility – Building a highway through a river could turn out to be very dangerous, potentially causing flooding throughout the City. Furthermore some question whether it’s even possible to build a highway there.
  • Urbanism/Philosophical – On the other side of downtown from the Trinity toll road, there is a lively discussion about tearing down a highway and replacing it with a boulevard. In short this line of thinking says that building a bunch of highways in a downtown is a 20th century mindset for economic growth based on the movement of goods and services. Instead 21st century downtown and urban growth will be based on how attractive downtowns are for people to live or work. And highways are generally not seen as attractive. Sorry I can see you getting tired head and clicking on that list of the oldest bars in Dallas. Let me continue.

Who decides whether or not to build it and haven’t we already voted on it.

The City of Dallas, through its citizens and it’s City Council members, ultimately should make the decision. Residents of Dallas have voted yes to the toll road twice, well kinda. The first time back in 1998, we voted yes for a parkway and parks along the Trinity. Once it became a highway, the issue was put before voters again in 2007 and received support, though opponents claimed divisive and dirty politics were played by the Pro-Toll Road folks.X00096_9

Angela Hunt and Tom Leppert debating the toll road in 2007.

If the voters approved the toll road years ago, why isn’t it built, and how come we’re still talking about it.

Money (remember I said I was going to come back to this). Back in ’98 voters approved over 200 million for the project. City staffers also diverted over 70 million from other projects and accounts to help pay for the highway without asking for council or voter permission, (a legal but if nothing else perhaps unethical move). That 300 million and likely even more that we don’t know about is long gone. The road is still nowhere close to being completed let alone started. Billions more will be needed, and where those billions come from is unclear at this point.

Trinity%20River%20Toll%20Road99Windmills don’t pay for themselves, well I guess they kinda do.

Should I be doing anything or what should I be doing if I view myself as a reasonable civic minded person?

Vote. Though there is not a direct ballot measure on the Toll Road, the upcoming city council elections next spring could be very important.


Because for years, city staff, particularly the city attorneys told the city council members they had to support the tollroad because of contracts the city had signed years ago to build the road. Recently the city attorney’s office changed their stance. So council could hold a vote and continue to fund the road. Or they could vote against it, killing the project and dedicating city staff and city funding to other projects.  Either way, it’s an important election…seriously.

What if I want to learn more about the toll road and the issues, where can I go?

If you buy me a drink I’d be more then happy to sit down and go over the issues.  But seriously, there is plenty of coverage out there if you want to go down an internet rabbit hole.  Just be aware all the info out there(including my own) comes with certain biases.

  • Jim Schutze over at the Dallas Observer knows more about the Trinity toll road then perhaps anyone.  He could not be more against the toll road if he tried, just be forewarned.
  • D Magazine and their blogs have pretty extensive coverage on the topic.  They were for but now are against it.
  • Lastly, the City’s daily, the Morning News  has been covering the issue for years.  Their take is well, interesting, especially after hiring on Observer ex Robert Wilonksy .  The only man who might challenge Schutze on his knowledge of the issue.