Fort Worth has announced the issues it plans to prioritize as it lobbies the members of the upcoming 117th United States Congress, which will be seated on January 3, 2021. The issues include seeking money for the Panther Island project, support of the local defense industry, and funding for transportation projects.
The City of Fort Worth plans to continue seeking federal funding for the stalled Panther Island/Central City Flood Control project. The city argues that it is “essential to protecting our rapidly expanding population and economy,” but critics have long claimed it is primarily an economic development project to increase Fort Worth’s tax base while not really solving flooding problems.
The project reroutes the Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth to create the mixed-use Panther Island.
Federal funds were exhausted in 2019, and the project has received no additional federal funding in 2020. Planners were offered just $1.5 million in the 2020 budget to be used for a feasibility study as opposed to the $38 million originally requested, but declined to accept it.
“In the three years I’ve been affiliated with this group, we’ve received no funding,” said Trinity River Vision Authority board member James Hill at a board meeting on September 2.
In 2019, an independent consulting firm, Riveron, conducted a review that showed significant problems with the project’s management, governance, and transparency. It also estimates the project will likely cost nearly $1.2 billion to complete — roughly three times the original estimates.
Local Defense Industry
According to the city, “Fort Worth’s economic growth and development is inextricably tied to the health of America’s military and defense industries.”
The city’s lobbyists will place an emphasis on seeking appropriations for the “Future Vertical Lift” including the Bell “360 Invictus Helicopter” while continuing to promote support for the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base.
Over 28,000 jobs in Fort Worth are associated with aerospace, aviation, and the defense industry, the Texas Economic Development Corporation website reports.
Earlier this year, Bell Textron, which has been in Fort Worth since 1951, unveiled plans for its new 140,000-square-foot manufacturing technology facility in the northern section of the city.
Fort Worth plans to seek funding from the federal government this year in order to continue its regional transportation plan. This includes seeking money to “elevate I-35 in key places.”
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, construction began in September 2020 on I-35W from US 81/287 to Eagle Parkway to add four TEXpress Lanes, auxiliary lanes, and some frontage roads. It anticipates the project to be substantially complete in late 2023.
But highway funding isn’t the city’s only transportation priority. It will seek money for “robust passenger rail that spans the city, enhanced public transportation systems, and alternative transit opportunities.”
Trinity Metro recently announced an extension of its commuter TEXRail line into the medical district of Fort Worth. The total cost for the two-mile track extension is about $120 million, with $58.9 million coming from the Texas Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration. The other $61.1 million must come from local matching funds.
In its second year of operation, the TEXRail commuter rail that runs from downtown Fort Worth to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport has seen a significant decline in ridership.
Transit ridership across the DFW region was down 57 percent in September, Michael Morris, Transportation Director at the North Central Texas Council of Governments, reported at the Regional Transportation Council meeting recently.
“Until we see a return of commuters, it will not improve,” he said, adding that he believes it is a temporary situation.
Corley Pipes Consulting continues as the lobbyists for the city of Fort Worth before the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. The group has been paid $160,000 per year for its services over the last several years, although the amount was reduced in 2020.
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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.