The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has officially announced the completion date for the three bridges near downtown Fort Worth affiliated with the beleaguered Panther Island project. The White Settlement Bridge is set to be completed in December of this year, and the other two bridges at North Main and Henderson are set to be completed in December of 2021.
TXDOT met with the Fort Worth City Council during a work session on February 18 to give an update on the bridge projects.
“This is the first time we’ve really had firm, committed, and approved dates for these bridges and for that I’m thrilled,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said, who acknowledged that the project has been plagued with problems and adversely affected several local businesses near the construction.
The bridges were originally supposed to be completed in the summer of 2018, at a cost of about $70 million. The completion will cost an additional $20 million.
Michael Morris, a representative from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said that the Regional Transportation Council (RTC), a group with representatives from many local government bodies, will make up the difference.
“We knew there would be cost overruns,” Morris said, especially pointing to the unique, non-standard bridge designs. The RTC will have to officially vote for the extra bridge funds. Morris expects that vote in late March or April.
PART OF A LARGER PLAN
The three bridges are part of a larger flood control and economic development plan commonly known as Panther Island, which involves creating a bypass channel and lake along the Trinity River in Fort Worth.
So far, the Panther Island project, which is estimated to cost $1.2 billion and has seen years of delays, administrative problems, and cost overruns, has not secured federal funding for the bypass channel of the Trinity River, a key component of the flood control portion of the project.
At least for now, the bridges will cross dry land.
“If the [bypass] channels don’t come…would the bridges be necessary?” asked Cary Moon, council member for District 4 in Fort Worth.
“These bridges were built as a result of Fort Worth’s desire to create a bypass channel,” Morris replied, explaining that the decision was to build the bridges first because it is easier to build bridges on dry land before creating the bypass channel.
“We’ve got to build these bridges before we can talk about a lake or a channel or anything else,” Jungus Jordan, council member for District 6 said. “We are going to finish this project. The bottom line is it’s needed, and we can’t stop where we’re at. We’ve got to move forward.”
“This is a critical project for the city of Fort Worth. Whether it is flood control, and it is, or whether it is economic development, and flood control always has a piece of economic development, this is a long-haul project. We’re moving forward to do this. It’s had lots of hiccups; it’s caused lots of people lots of headaches,” Price noted.
WATER DISTRICT FUNDING
Also on Tuesday, the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) board met and received an update from Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA). Board member James Hill recommended that the TRWD “take a pause, figure out where we are, slow down, and not issue any more debt until we meet with our partners and figure out how to responsibly move forward.”
In early January, TRWD issued $1 million in commercial paper to finance the administrative costs of the TRVA for about three months.
Sandy Newby, the finance director, reported that the money should last until early April and that she understood functions were being “scaled back as much as possible to do the bare minimum.”
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.