It is fish-or-cut-bait time at the Trinity River. Either we go forward with the project as it has been developed over the past nine years or we let it go. The Trinity already has been defeated at least twice at the polls, once, in the early 1970s when there was a push to make it navigable all the way to the gulf coast and again in 1978, when the voters turned down Town Lake. They will get a chance to administer a real coup de grace if Councilwoman Angela Hunt can gather enough signatures during the city election to call a referendum to reconsider the project.

It’s important first to look carefully at what is under review: parks, lakes, an island and two bridges by Santiago Calatrava. This would be a setting compelling enough to attract the Audubon Center, the Texas Horse Park and the Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art. Moreover, it is all of a piece with the Arts District. The two are bookends for a new downtown.

However, The Trinity would not be a complete restoration of the peculiar perfection of nature. Not only would a river run through it, but also a parkway, four lanes at first and maybe, someday, six. This is the price of improvement. Some say put the road someplace else. If that were possible, would it not already have been done? Industrial Boulevard would not work. Buying the right-of-way would be prohibitive. Others believe that if the parkway were eliminated, the traffic would go elsewhere. Of course, it would. Cars would clog the other arteries and make this a part of town where nobody wants to be.

The worst thing is that the Trinity project could win at the polls but still be lost. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson has managed to insert $298 million for the effort in the Water Resources Development Act. This has been authorized but not yet appropriated. If word gets around in Washington that Dallas has doubts about the Trinity, does anybody really believe that money would not be snatched away and sent to a blue state by the current Democratic Congress?  Challenge funds of $404 million put up by federal, state and private sources to gain matching money would be jeopardized as well.

Then there are requests for $60 million out now to various families who have many places to put their contributions. Raise doubts about the Trinity, and it would not be long before they found other avenues for their generosity. Funders do not also serve who only stand and wait. They will neither stand by nor wait while this drama unfolds at City Hall. Other enterprises, equally worthy, already are on their desks.

The irony is that we could wind up with the parkway while the lakes evaporate. What is to keep the Texas Department of Transportation or the North Texas Tollway Authority from building a road on land between the levees owned by the city? The council would never permit it, you say. Don’t be so sure. It’s hard to predict the pressures of the future. There is one thing of which I feel certain: this plan, for all its imperfections, is the best we’re going to do. It will be another generation before there is a chance like this.