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Dallas delays its next step in picking new Love Field entry. Is this a fight we even need to have?

As Park Board passes a resolution expressing concerns about whether this process is fair to Bachman Lake area, Aviation decides to wait on COG congestion study.

By Sharon Grigsby, Dallas Morning News

3:06 PM on Sep 17, 2020

As the city Aviation Department’s push for an alternate entry to Dallas Love Field settled into an unexpected holding pattern in recent days, my question is whether this plan — almost certain to infringe on Bachman Lake Park — needed to take off in the first place.

The delay comes amid growing pushback from residents and the Dallas Park Board, which Thursday unanimously approved a resolution that asks the City Council’s Transportation Committee to defer the entire mess until a more inclusive process is put in place.

Among the Park Board’s many complaints after it was finally briefed in late August by Aviation: lack of transparency, insufficient community involvement and questions about whether a good-faith effort was made to equally vet all options.

The core of the Park Board’s consternation: Why were we shut out until after you narrowed 11 entry options to five, three of which land squarely on Bachman Lake Park?

Parks has no veto power over Aviation’s recommendations — the most egregious of which would put an airport-connecting vehicular bridge across Bachman Lake from Northwest Highway. But as its chair, Calvert Collins-Bratton, said, “I’m going to make it hard for them to ignore us.”

Good on the Park Board for making this stand. Yet it’s something entirely different — a lucky break of sorts — that led Aviation director Mark Duebner to hit pause: a newly announced $1 million traffic congestion and mobility study of the area by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

The COG study, mentioned in the Park Board resolution, won’t necessarily address an alternate Love Field entrance. But Duebner told me he now needs a solid sense of where COG is headed before Aviation takes its airport entry options to the Transportation Committee and City Council.

Duebner originally had hoped to get the council’s reaction to the short list by year’s end so his team could move into its next round of analysis, which will include rough price tags.

Any alternate entry into Love Field is a long, long way from happening. But given how the pandemic has shut down so many lines of communication — and Love Field’s often-tense dealings with its neighbors — it’s little wonder that folks are up in arms.

Love Field is the city’s biggest financial success story, a huge job creator and an ultra-convenient transportation hub that we residents are lucky to have. Duebner is frank that his job is to keep it that way; his top priority is the 1,300-acre campus, its airlines and its customers.

A northern airport entry has been discussed on and off ever since flight restrictions were lifted at Love in 2014 and passenger traffic more than doubled.

After one of several briefings on an alternate entry late last year, the City Council asked Duebner to take another look at all possible options, especially ones that wouldn’t tamper with Bachman Lake and the surrounding area, which is in the middle of a bond vote-funded $18 million facelift.

The Aviation Department expanded its effort, which resulted in the 11 options — 12 if you count doing nothing.

It’s that Option 12 that I keep coming back to. Is this a fight worth having right now at an airport that is capped at 20 gates and already runs at peak efficiency?

Here’s Duebner’s case, which he ticked off during an Aug. 20 presentation to the Park Board:

— The Mockingbird Lane-Herb Kelleher Way intersection serves more than 80,000 vehicles a day and falls into Level F (failure) during peak periods. That means drivers must wait through several cycles of the stoplight before proceeding.

— Neighbors on the airport’s southern end report that traffic seeking cut-throughs disrupts side streets.

— If a traffic accident closes the road into the airport, first responders can’t get into the airport in an emergency.

No doubt side streets see more cut-through drivers than residents would like — and certainly we want emergency vehicles to have timely access to the airport — but Duebner’s presentation of those two points didn’t include supporting data.

As for the traffic itself, neither I nor the more than two dozen people I’ve asked since beginning work on this column — many of whom use the airport regularly — find getting into the airport to be an issue.

What major intersections don’t have backups during peak periods? Don’t Love Field customers and employees have an obligation to plan accordingly during the airport’s busiest times?

The more questions asked by Park Board members, the more Duebner stressed, “We have a transportation problem at the airport. It’s a demonstrable fact. Our customers cannot get to the airport.”

Duebner is charged with making sure Aviation plans for the future. Traffic will increase, he says, because Southwest Airlines plans to eventually fly bigger planes and development will continue around the airport.

He also emphasized the importance of community meetings and a city survey in gathering info to take back to the council.

While residents and representatives to Love Field’s north are unhappy with the short list, “I have neighbors to consider everywhere I go and people will be affected by whatever direction we take,” Duebner told the Park Board.

Neither board members nor public commenters were swayed.

Park Board member Daniel Wood called it “insulting and embarrassing that the city would be considering slicing that park in half with a transportation bridge.”

Residents expressed a fierce loyalty to Bachman Lake Park and the many ways they and their families use the greenspace. Among their pleas: “Don’t push things like this down our throat.” “We are surprised we weren’t part of the discussion.” “These proposals were put forth with the idea of creating one result — a bridge.”

Another 50 or so wrote to the Park Board; all but one opposed the alternate entry options.

Park Board member Tim Dickey, who represents the Bachman Lake-area District 6, didn’t think much of Aviation’s community outreach. “I’ve attended every meeting on the alternate entrance and these are mostly one-sided, stacked-up deals,” Dickey said. “There’s no way to challenge assertions or ask follow-up questions.”

As for the online survey — which I completed — it’s targeted at the customers of Love Field, not the residents who will live with whatever alternate entry might be built.

A few evenings ago, I spent a lovely few hours on the crape myrtle-framed trail at Bachman Lake and — for that time — felt 40 years younger. My first Dallas apartment was a couple of blocks east on Northwest Highway, and Bachman was my neighborhood lake for several years.

The park has changed a lot, entirely for the better, with enthusiastic users from all walks of life. Rowers and kayakers, both clubs and folks just out for fun, skimmed across the water. I eavesdropped as two fishermen exchanged stories about the day’s catch. Skaters, bikers and runners dodged families with broods of preschoolers heading to the swings.

Even on this hot and humid afternoon, it was hard to find a parking spot.

The Friends of Bachman Lake advocacy group points out that in this largely Hispanic part of our city — the area of Dallas with the largest number of children under 5 — this park is the only greenspace that many residents have.

It’s just awful that at the same time equity discussions about quality of life percolate everywhere, a new airport entrance could wind up here. The park, created in 1930, already deals not just with jet noise but eyesores of airport equipment on its property. Enough is enough.

Duebner’s presentation makes the case that of the 11 options, more than half simply won’t work for a variety of reasons: The analysis shows many don’t reduce traffic, vehicle miles traveled or air pollution.

The options that did make the short list include not just the bridge plan but several that involve Shorecrest Road, which runs in the narrow strip between the park’s southern boundary and the airport.

Among the slides that most riled folks up was one that shows the ZIP codes of North Texans who use the airport. Many are Dallas residents who live north of Mockingbird but the map fairly explodes with locations in Collin and Denton counties.

Nobody was exceedingly jazzed to have urban parkland exploited for the convenience of Frisco, Lewisville and Plano residents.

Collins-Bratton, who also represents Bachman Lake’s District 13 neighbors, is hardly unilaterally opposed to enhancements to Love Field, but she’s determined to fight any effort that pinches the parkland or impacts quality of life.

“Why is the lake potentially getting punished for improvements at the airport?” she asked. “With all due respect, this board is never going to support any of those options.”

I suspect neither will many of the rest of us.

Sharon Grigsby. I'm the Metro columnist, which means that if it's happening in North Texas, I'm likely to write about it. My work on Baylor's sexual assault scandal earned a spot as a 2018 Pulitzer finalist. I was born in Waco, raised my own family in the suburbs and have been back in Dallas ever since.



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