What Happened at That Closed Door Meeting for the Trinity Toll Road on Thursday?

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Let's just say that this rendering of the Trinity Tollway is never, ever going to happen. It's going to be bigger, uglier, and it's going to need more elevated feeders. One of those, the Jefferson Memorial , might completely cut off West Dallas from North Oak Cliff.
Let’s just say that this rendering of the Trinity Tollway is never, ever going to happen. It’s going to be bigger, uglier, and it’s going to need more elevated feeders. One of those, the Jefferson Memorial Bridge, might completely cut off West Dallas from North Oak Cliff.

So. Some of our fearless city leaders want to build a toll road along the Trinity River bed that splits Dallas into north and south. One of my goals this year is to gauge where the real estate community stands on this issue. On Thursday, State Sen. Royce West invited a handful of prominent city leaders to the Urban League of Dallas on Lancaster Road  for a closed-door briefing. He let no press in, not even the Dallas Morning News, saying the meeting was closed to the public because it was meant to be a briefing for his own info, so he could respond to his constituents.

Transparency, right?

Who was there? Presenters were West, North Central Texas Council of Governments Transportation Director Michael Morris, City of Dallas Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan, City of Dallas Transportation Program Manager Keith Manoy, Texas Department of Transportation Dallas District Deputy Engineer Kelly Selman, and NTTA Executive Director of Infrastructure Elizabeth Mow. Also Bob Meckfessel, former president of the Dallas AIA, a guy who cares deeply about Dallas architecture. Meckfessel was once for the toll road, now he says he is against.

Those invited: Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, former Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm, six Dallas City Council members (including Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston, Vonciel Jones Hill and Dwaine Caraway), Dallas County Commissioners John Wiley Price and Elba Garcia, Farmers Branch council member Ana Reyes, West Dallas developer Monte Anderson, urban planner Patrick Kennedy, folks from the North Texas Tollway Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation, real estate investor Philip Wise and State Rep. Raphael Anchia, who is polling constituents about this topic. About 30 to 35 people showed up I’m told. Mayor Mike was not there, Griggs and Kingston were somewhere else. No John Wiley,  no Elba Garcia. Philip Wise was not there but his partner Barry Hancock was.

The proposed 9-mile road connecting Irving and northwest Dallas to South Dallas, aka the Trinity Toll Road, is becoming one of the city’s biggest controversies. Hot, hot topic, cocktail party chatter now superseding what your home is worth. And West has been a supporter of the $1.5 billion project. But he has said, in numerous media reports, he would oppose the highway if a majority of his constituents oppose it and highway capacity is added elsewhere near downtown Dallas. Which is a valid point.

After the meeting, Royce told the Dallas Morning News he had not changed his mind at all.

But then, he spent the majority of time hearing how great it was, from what I hear happened at the meeting:

Jefferson Memorial Bridge Alignment Options

Supporters spent almost two hours describing their plans. The Trinity Tollway will essentially be a five-lane highway, three lanes on each side plus two shoulders. (Update: three lanes each way, each with two large shoulders — essentially five lanes one-way.) There will be direct access to the Trinity Tollway from all other area freeways in the vicinity.

Now if you think a toll road is a bad idea or even have an inkling of a thought that it could be not such a great idea, hang on. There are bigger plans. It’s called the Jefferson Memorial Bridge. This is to be a gigantic freeway flyover, spun as a memorial to, I guess, Thomas Jefferson or Jefferson Boulevard. The cost for building the bridge would be in addition to the cost of the Trinity.  They would tear down the existing Jefferson bridge to accommodate the Trinity Tollway exit. The new Jefferson Memorial Bridge will become a highway fly-over over the Trinity, dissecting the  Oak Farms Dairy site. Think of it as a mini freeway connecting the Trinity Tollway to I-35. See two proposed alignments we gleaned from Dallas City staff above.

Think of spaghetti. Lots of spaghetti.

Apparently the Jefferson Memorial Bridge is critical to the whole thing to get it built. Michael Morris says it’s standard transportation model 101.

One thing that was never brought up by these guys: the concept of living and working in the same area. You know, walking to work. Of course, maybe that comes in Part II?

But party on! There was talk of using the the Trinity River toll road as a parkway on weekends… maybe even having a street party on the tollway? Yes, my sources say this was really said in words. Have a party on a highway.

So for about an hour and forty-five minutes, the Trinity supporters gave pitches. Vonciel Jones Hill was there and gave her pitch. Two guesses what she said:


Nothing about building wealth for or in her own community. Question for Vonciel: if you live in her district, is Parkland the only place you can work? (Granted, that new hospital is pretty nice.) Can you not maybe work at Baylor? And why a hospital job per se? Can her “people” not do anything else but empty bedpans? Quick, go read Patrick Kennedy’s analysis on the whole commuter thing. We’ll wait.

OK, now we’re back. Onward.

Bob Meckfessel asked for 2 to 3 minutes to talk. He was reserved, maybe felt out-gunned? Michael Morris said the tollway was following the Dallas Balanced Vision Plan. Meckfessel disagreed — said it was not. He asked about creating jobs and entrepreneurs in the southern sector rather than transporting them elsewhere. Plus things have changed drastically in Dallas in the last 15 years, he said.

This was not said, but I am adding: The average black person’s net worth in this country is $6,000, the average Caucasian’s is $190,000. How do you help grow net worth? By building within a community. Look at Harlem real estate today versus 30 years ago!

My initial take from talking to sources at this meeting was that the Trinity will not help build real estate in the southern sector at all. Rather, it will continue a steady stream of crappy cars breaking down on a shiny new highway. Perhaps the money could be better spent on the infrastructure in the southern sector? President Obama just offered to give every kid in America a two-year community college education. While I would personally prefer to see that tied to at least one year of service to this country (and I don’t mean military), there you go. Why not create incentives for businesses to plant themselves in the southern sector so you could have the jobs THERE, not in the Stemmons Corridor? Apartments and housing would follow.

With what it costs to build the Trinity tollway, you could send every child south of I-30 to 4 years at UNT.

My second take is that we need an influx of commerce TO this area, not AWAY from it. How do we do that? Please, the comment lines are wide open. The current population of Dallas is hovering around zero growth. I do not think the Trinity Tollway is going to improve that. Growth in Dallas au currant is in NORTH TEXAS: Plano, Frisco, Prosper, and north. The Dallas North Tollway fed that. Is that why we are in such a Tollway = personal wealth state of mind?

I leave you with two words: BISHOP ARTS! Bishop Arts was built by local entrepreneurs who made it cool. Hipness and coolness in a neighborhood comes from within. You start with a few bold locals who take a risk, initiate change and get everyone to take a look. Then the folks from the outside come in to invest.Chaching.  I spent much of yesterday with some apartment investors in another part of town. Local small business entrepreneurs, starting by buying one building at a time and making them better. Isn’t this more of what we need to grow south Dallas? If not, please tell me.




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Candy Evans

A real estate muckraker, Candy Evans is one of the nation’s leading real estate reporters. She is also the North Texas real estate editor for Forbes.com, CultureMap Dallas, Modern Luxury Dallas, & the Katy Trail Weekly. Candy has written for Joel Kotkin’s The New Geography, Inman Real Estate News, plus a host of national sites. Constantly breaking celebrity real estate news, she scooped former president George W. Bush's Dallas home in 2008. She is the founder and publisher of her signature CandysDirt.com, and SecondShelters.com, devoted to the vacation home market. Her verticals have won many awards, including Best Blog by the venerable National Association of Real Estate Editors, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious journalism associations. Candy holds an active Texas real estate license but does not sell. She is on the Board of Directors of Braemar Hotels & Resorts (BHR).

Reader Interactions


  1. Matthew R says

    If this tollway gets built, I will give up on Dallas and move my millenial butt somewhere else. Nobody wants it (except Vonciel), nobody needs it, nobody has the money to pay for it, there is no logical reason to build it! It will be the final nail in the coffin of any expectation of a live-work-play environment in the urban core. That land needs to be cleaned up and used for park land, recreation space, and other things that actually BENEFIT THE CITIZENS OF DALLAS. Not another ugly asphalt noose on the urban core that promotes more suburban style sprawl and more people moving out of the urban core and still commuting to their jobs in the core.

  2. Matthew R says

    Another good thing to do would be to figure out who is lining Vonciel’s pocket on this one. Which corporation/political entity? It sure as hell isn’t any pool cleaning company because she hasn’t called on of those in many years. We know that she probably has a cozy relationship with the companies that spray for West Nile since she is probably one of the leading causes of West Nile virus in Dallas County.

  3. Boomer Baby says

    I agree with Matthew’s first comment….if this goes through, instead of thinking about staying and retiring in Dallas my husband and I will move our boomer selves to a pedestrian, park friendly city! ENOUGH already!!!

  4. James says

    This is all very disappointing to hear. I’m pretty much just resigned to think this is a done deal. Well, not exactly, because I can’t imagine they’ll actually ever find the funding to pay for it. But what *will* happen is years and years of nothing, while income levels don’t change, population in Dallas continues to decline, and the same tired arguments for this thing continue into eternity.

  5. James says

    I’d like to survey Vonciel’s constituents to see how many of them actually want/need the road. And I think the appropriate way to ask is “how much extra money do you have to pay to drive 9 miles on a road that will get you to your job in a moderately faster, if at all, amount of time?” I’m willing to bet not many.

  6. J Esteban says

    Even if the city has $30-$40M in an account for the toll road, imagine taking that money and investing it in southern Dallas. With private partners, Jefferson Blvd, Wynnewood, Fair Park, VA Medical and UNT Dallas could be transformed in less than 10 years.

  7. MikeyLikesIt says

    The Tollroad’s starting point is only a short distance from the epicenter of all our earthquake activity actually. I’m not sure how long scores of gainful employers will be based there. Maybe they should market it as an escape route. Seriously, we have no mountains, no oceans, no views to speak of but our iconic award winning skyline. Surely better judgement will prevail and not the ruination of our greatest resource. I would plead with the real estate community to intervene before the skyline is irreparably harmed.

  8. Sean M says

    Vonciel couldn’t care less about her constituents. She lives in her own little bubble where we all allegedly agree with her.

  9. Patrick says

    I’ll add my voice to the build it and I’m gone crowd. Since the toll road is meant to shuttle people through Dallas, we’ll use it to move on up the road and out of Dallas. This is about more than just a road, this is about what kind of city Dallas is going to be in the future and the quality of life for its residents. Building the tollroad signals Dallas is going to continue to be a way-point to the suburbs with poor quality of life for its own residents.

  10. charles mann says

    What with all the meetings and “charettes” going on, and very few of them open to any public discussion, isn’t it time we had an open, public forum addressing, from both a practical and a philosophical perspective, just what we, the citizens of Dallas, think this city really is, how it functions, and what we want and expect it to become? This would probably be the last thing the so-called “powers that be” would want to hear from the masses, but at this point in time, with Dallas on the cusp of a new generational power shift, I can’t imagine a better moment to speak truth to power.

  11. Matthew R says

    Maybe starting a campaign is in order, #BuildItAndWe’reGone. A long list of residents and businesses that will leave the city if this asphalt noose is built. City and TxDOT officials are too short sighted to see the economic bomb that this will be, so we must show them.

  12. Raymond Crawford says

    I’m sure The Southern Gateway was not mentioned was it? Scott Griggs is hosting a meeting on Tuesday night, 6pm at Hitt Auditorium. The plans are to turn RL Thornton, Hwy 67, and 35 into a super sonic freeway with toll lanes. Seriously.. Y’all better show up on Tuesday. You ain’t seen nuthin yet.

  13. Amanda says

    We need alternative solutions. How to grow jobs in SDallas so residents don’t have to drive across the region for work. Candy, you’re dead on. We need locals revitalizing their neighborhoods, with their own small businesses. And working with old buildings is the hardest – we need small neighborhood Design Studio-type offices to help connect the residents to the resources that are available and help them deal with the regulatory quagmire of redeveloping old commercial districts with good pedestrian-friendly ‘bones’. It’s a lot of hard work. But talented young professionals are coming from around the country to work for bcWORKSHOP to get to do this kind of work, while earning only a meager salary. Let’s throw that $140 million set aside for the road toward THIS.

  14. JD says

    I’m pretty tied to Dallas due to my job, but my job is also commutable (as in, flying in weekly). If this thing gets built, I’m not sure I want to continue to pay taxes in a city that is willing to crap all over an opportunity to do what is right for the citizens of that city.

  15. Amy J says

    I live in the hospital district off maple & Inwood. Old apartment buildings are being torn down to be replaced by “Uptown-style living without the Uptown rent”. I’m sure it’s at least 3-4x more than it was – granted they are much nicer buildings, but what happened to affordable apartments WITHOUT granite countertops and stainless steel appliances? So So now anyone who already lived IN THE HOSPITAL DISTRICT and worked there at a minimum wage or slightly higher/paying job will have to move farther away and take transportation to get to the job they used to live NEXT to. Not every neighborhood needs to be the next Uptown/West Village. Make developers incorporate housing at multiple income levels instead of “bussing” people in from other areas to work.

  16. Norma Minnis says

    Candy, thank you very much for your comments. This issue needs to become a campaign issue for the next city, county and state elections. Making candidates take a position on this issue will kill the road. This highway is only a jobs program for road builders. It does nothing for the community. If built, the question will become: which side of the highway do you live on? Remember the proposed double decking of North Central Expressway between DT and NW Highway? Former Governor Mark White and other candidates took positions against double decking and won. Soon after the election the entire plan was shelved and the tunneling began.

  17. Marsha Gibbons says

    I agree with you. I realize the importance of keeping traffic moving and getting people where they need to go. That can be accomplished in ways other than building a huge toll road. When you bypass an entire area, you isolate the area further and it does not encourage business. In the short run, it is much harder to design roads and highways through an area, but in this instance it would be much more beneficial than bypassing the areas mentioned. I expect more from our city than giant highways overhead. I’m ready for more creative development, with an eye to quality of life and building up neighborhoods, not passing them by.

  18. brandon says

    Be careful about putting Bishop Arts on a pedestal. Dallas still favors developing entertainment districts out of old urban fabric. When we figure out how to create neighborhoods that allow for diversity of class and culture, especially in urban districts, desirable places won’t be so easily gentrified.

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