Don Woodard: When the public gets to vote, boondoggles get the ax

Don Woodard

In a May 30 press story it was reported that construction of three new Trinity River Vision bridges costing $65 million, over a channel yet to be dug, would start in September. Construction would not be completed for almost four years. Woe unto you, ye weary, exhausted, dodging, detouring bridge-building drivers! These new bridges will not enable you to go anywhere that you cannot get to using the perfectly adequate bridges that already exist and are paid for. In last spring’s The Natives are Restless Water Board election, Mary Kelleher upset an incumbent. Biggest upset since a racehorse named Upset beat Man o’ War in 1919 in the Sanford Memorial Stakes. Not only that! Of the seven candidates in the race – herself and six men o’ war – Mary led the field and won the roses. Another boondoggle-opposing candidate came within an eyelash of defeating a second incumbent. So close was that nose-to-nose race that the loser contemplated calling for an expensive recount. Considering the cost of a recount, he decided the course of wisdom would be to lick his wounds and wait for the next election. That election is coming up in May.

Ask yourself this question: What would be the situation with respect to these under-construction bridges, and indeed the entire Trinity River Vision boondoggle, if the voters in next spring’s election, incensed over never having been given a vote on this near billion-dollar project, sent two more anti-boondoggle members to join Mary Kelleher on the five-member water board? Would not prudence dictate that this three-bridge construction project slated to start in September be postponed at least until after the water board election come next spring? Or is getting construction underway but a ploy to set in stone the project supporters’ inveterate watch cry – “The ship has sailed! It’s too late to turn back now! Point of no return!” How very different this step by stealthy step Trinity River Vision vulgar piece of stupidity has been from the 1973 proposal to build a barge canal extending all the way up the river from the Gulf of Mexico to the Tarrant County Court House. That proposition was supported by the omniscient Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and a host of powerful civic leaders including Amon Carter’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The prestigious Rominger PR firm was retained. Saturday morning meetings to plot strategy and check signals were held in Ben Carpenter’s plush office high atop the Southland Life Insurance skyscraper in Dallas. I know what I’m talking about. I was there. I sat in those meetings. Things looked favorable.

But a fatal mistake was made from the outset. In that election the issue was put up for a public vote. And the public voted a resounding No! Nine of the 17 counties up and down the river from here to the Gulf voted No! Tarrant and Dallas counties both voted No! The barge canal was defeated! This new crop of nepotistic, logrolling boondoggle promoters learned their lesson and they learned it well in that 1973 fiasco. “No public vote this time! The public be damned! We’ll do it by edict from Washington!”

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Don Woodard is a Fort Worth businessman and author of Black Diamonds! Black Gold!: The Saga of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.