Fort Worth bridge demolition rattles windows and nerves far away

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Susan Geissler was in the shower Monday night when a loud boom nearly knocked her to the floor.

Later, she found out that the blast was the result of a planned demolition nearly three miles away. The Texas Department of Transportation demolished the old Weatherford Street bridge on the eastern edge of downtown Fort Worth -- creating a blast that shook windows and rattled nerves as far away as Arlington and Mansfield.

"This whole bridge blowing up business would have been a good thing to know before I got into the shower," Geissler, who lives in the historic Fairmount area southwest of downtown, posted on her Facebook page. "I thought the world was ending and I was going into it without any clothes on. Which is totally something that would happen to me."

Reached Tuesday by phone, Geissler, owner of Manifesto Marketing, said that had she known about the demolition, she would have tried to get close to the site to watch it. Geissler said she watched the 2006 implosion of the Landmark Tower downtown.

Officials at the Transportation Department said they kept the bridge demolition a bit on the down-low to avoid attracting gawkers.

As a result, many residents not only in the city center but also in east Fort Worth and Arlington were stunned by the noise and vibration of the blast about 10:20 p.m.

911 overwhelmed

Fort Worth 911 operators were overwhelmed with calls.

"They're jamming our lines right now," police Capt. Kevin Rodricks said Monday night.

Despite the jolt to the community, the demolition was considered a success, Transportation Department officials said.

On Tuesday afternoon, workers were still removing debris, but most roads on the east side of downtown were open to traffic. Only Gilvin Street directly below the bridge site remained closed to traffic.

"The amount of explosives used was the proper amount to get the job done," Transportation Department spokesman Val Lopez said. "The whole point of the exercise was to demolish the old bridge without damaging the new bridge. Demolishing it using traditional methods like giant jackhammers actually would have exposed it to additional damage by debris."

The agency and its contractors also accounted for variables such as the weather, Lopez said.

"Lots of factors go into how far sound travels," he said. "If there was going to be cloud cover, they were going to affect the demolition. There was a potential there to cause damage to windows. But it was a relatively clear night, which means the pressure would dissipate quickly."

Before the blast, agency spokeswoman Jodi Hodges said: "There may be some small explosives, but we're not advertising that to the world. It's very controlled and very minor. We've certainly talked with all the local fire departments and police and all that, but mostly it's just demolishing that bridge and hauling off the debris."

But several residents said Tuesday that the blast created a near-panic among their neighbors.

"One guy ran up to me and asked, 'Did the gas station blow up?'" said Rick Builtron, who lives on East Third Street, about a half-mile from the site.

Olinda Barbosa, who lives on Samuels Avenue less than a half-mile north of Weatherford Street, said the blast shook pictures on her walls and caused her father to bump his head against the wall while sleeping.

"We thought it was an earthquake," said Barbosa, who is studying to be a pharmacist. "It would be nice for the city to tell us what is happening so everyone is not so scared."

Other projects

The bridge demolition is one of two projects that may have downtown-area motorists feeling a bit hemmed-in these days.

On the west side of downtown, Forest Park Boulevard will be closed for up to nine more days at West Seventh Street as workers dig column shafts for the planned new West Seventh Street bridge.

Some of the early work involves digging shafts for the bridge columns -- an effort that requires heavy machinery on or near Forest Park. The road could be closed through March 27 and again April 3-12.

Motorists are urged to find alternate routes between downtown and neighborhoods such as Berkeley Place. Those who stay on Forest Park will be detoured to West Fifth, West 10th and Penn streets.

On Weatherford Street, the demolition now allows crews to complete construction of the new bridge by the fall, officials said. The project includes the bridge, the approaches, a southbound ramp to Interstate 35W, an extended deceleration lane, retaining walls, and better drainage and lighting.

Staff writer Bill Miller contributed

to this report.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

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