Quick Take: Toll road, bridge problems growing

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by By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 1:32 PM

The levees inspection report from the Army Corps of Engineers makes for grim reading. But does it mean that the Trinity toll road and the Calatrava bridges can't be built?

Mayor Tom Leppert has promised they can be. But the challenges for the folks trying to build the road keep getting bigger. And until a fix is found for the levee concerns relating to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, its eventual completion - or at least its ability to be completed on time and within budget - is in question.

What we do know is that the levees have to be fixed first. And we don't yet know how expensive or how long that will take.

We'll probably know by the end of the year what kind of fixes are needed, but it may take a decade to make them all. Until then, what will happen to the bridges and the road?

The Texas Department of Transportation says work on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge won't stop. But work on the approach ramps has been halted while the corps and TxDOT work out a plan to move the utility tower now in the way.

We knew that. But we also learned from the report that the corps says all work on the portion of the bridge deck that runs nearest the levees will have to be stopped, until the problems can be fixed.

And the toll road? The North Texas Tollway Authority said Wednesday its work continues, despite the report.

But what is that work, exactly? It's the design that must be completed to give the corps enough information so it can decide whether to allow the road to be built inside the levees.

NTTA is up against a murderous deadline. And not even the man who set that schedule - Leppert - is sure that these levee issues won't blow that out of the water.

So can the toll road still be built? Maybe, depending on what is learned about the extent of the problems in the levees. The problems that are most pressing are ones we knew about, but hadn't realized were as extensive as they appear to be from the corps report.

The sand layers are big, the report says, and very close to the base of the structures that are worrying the corps. Just six feet below the base of the bridge, for instance, there is a layer of sand as deep as 25 or so feet. That's not a good thing.

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