Bridge designer Santiago Calatrava meets with Trinity supporters in Dallas

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by By RUDOLPH BUSH / The Dallas Morning News rbush@dallasnews.com

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 1:21 PM

Ten years ago, the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava came to Dallas with a vision of building five soaring bridges over the Trinity River that he said would help transform the city's long-neglected floodway from a warren of jails and electrical wires into a beautiful urban park that would define the city.

MICHAEL MULVEY/DMN
Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava said he hopes the bridges are built, but sand in the levees may be an issue.

On Wednesday, Calatrava was in Dallas again, speaking to the city's most prominent backers of that vision at the offices of the Trinity Trust in Oak Lawn.

Amid a barrage of negative news about City Hall's vision for the Trinity, his visit was welcomed there as a morale boost, a refresher on the original vision that inspired those who have worked to realize the project.

In perfect English but with a thick Spanish accent, he spoke flatteringly of Dallas as a pioneer city where the focus on renewing the Trinity River will reap benefits for generations.

"Dallas is facing one of the most important projects in terms of revitalization. When I say one of the most important projects, I mean worldwide. I do not know a single city in the world that is facing such an ambitious project," he said later during an interview.

As he spoke, Calatrava faced two large models of the first signature bridges he designed for Dallas.

Behind him was a massive scale mock-up of the city transformed by a revived riverfront.

Just a few miles away, the real Trinity River bottom looked much as it did when Calatrava visited in 1999.

The electrical lines still stand. The county jail recently completed a $65 million addition.

The city, meanwhile, is mired in controversy over plans to construct a toll road over the Trinity levees and through the floodway.

Asked why he came to Dallas now, Calatrava said he simply wanted to visit friends he has made in connection with the Trinity project.

But his visit also corresponds with the arrival in the port of Houston of the massive white steel arch that is the defining feature of the first of two bridges he designed for Dallas.

After months of delays, the arch for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge could rise this summer, marking a major change to the city's skyline and a huge step forward for City Hall's vision of the Trinity.

There are ongoing concerns about the construction of the bridge. The discovery of sand deep in the levees where support columns for the bridge's approaches stand has given the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pause.

But top corps officials offered City Hall public assurances last week that the bridge will be completed with minimal delay.

Calatrava declined to comment on whether he believes the finding of sand could affect the completion of the bridge.

"I hope all the bridges get built," he said. "Several years ago, nobody would believe we could build a single one, and we are already building it. These sorts of works often confront problems that were difficult to see before. And on the way, you see maybe you have to find solutions."

The second bridge, known as the Margaret McDermott Bridge, is largely funded and officials hope to bid the project in 2011, around the time the first is scheduled for completion.

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