Loss of picturesque Old Granbury Road to toll road angers residents

Posted Friday, Jul. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Although it cuts through a picturesque prairie, Old Granbury Road itself isn’t much to look at.

The old road is only two lanes wide and lacks shoulders. Motorists wishing to pull over don’t really have room, unless they turn onto one of the private, gravel driveways leading to natural gas sites in the area.

Still, it’s a functional road that, for decades, has connected Crowley to south Fort Worth. And that’s why residents such as Bill Humm are incensed to learn that their thoroughfare will be cut off to make room for a tollway.

“This is a public, tax-supported road that they’re destroying,” said Humm, who lives in the nearby St. Francis Village retirement community near Benbrook Lake, and often drives Old Granbury Road to shopping trips and other errands.

Old Granbury Road, which now carries about 2,700 vehicles per day, is scheduled to be permanently bisected about one mile north of Farm Road 1187 by the new Chisholm Trail Parkway, a 28-mile long toll road under construction and scheduled to open in 2014.

Once it’s blocked, creating dead ends for both north and south traffic, the road will likely see little traffic for years to come, other than a smattering of vehicles traveling to a handful of rural homes in the area.

The impending permanent barricade taps into the anger many motorists feel about toll roads across the state: They are paying an extra tax, they say, just to get around in their communities.

“We’re going to be forced to take this tollway,” said another village resident, Tom Kemp.

Like Humm, Kemp said the Chisholm Trail Parkway planners should have incorporated a simple, two-lane bridge over the toll road to ensure that Old Granbury Road could stay open.

Humm, Kemp and others have been asking south Tarrant County residents to sign a petition opposing the decision, and so far they have 444 signatures.

No surprises

But tollway officials say that no one should be surprised, because barricading the road has been a part of the plan for more than 10 years.

They say that when the closure of Old Granbury Road was first proposed in the early 2000s, there might have been some opposition, but there was no organized effort to save the road.

Commissioner Roy Brooks, who represents the affected part of unincorporated Tarrant County, says that while there is no need to start “pointing fingers,” he found out about the closure only about a year ago.

“I do think closing the road is the wrong thing to do, but the project is so far down the road, there aren’t any options at this point,” he said. “To build a bridge across the road, I’m told, would cost $8 million and would require a new environmental study that would delay the project considerably.

“That’s not an option.”

Officials working on the Chisholm Trail Parkway project say the decision to bisect Old Granbury Road was anything but hasty.

The environmental study for the $1.4 billion toll road project lasted several years. It included numerous neighborhood meetings, with detailed displays on how the construction of the toll road would affect local streets and thoroughfares, said Elizabeth Mow, North Texas Tollway Authority assistant executive director.

Mow also said the county was included in the planning, and had ample opportunity to learn about road closures and offer comments or alternatives.

The tollway authority is the lead agency on the project, although the Texas Department of Transportation oversaw the original environmental study.

“This was part of the environmental process,” Mow said. “All the neighborhoods were very much a part of the environmental process.”

Mow added that the closure of Old Granbury Road is tentatively scheduled to take place in the fall, but said it won’t happen until Fort Worth completes an extension of McPherson Boulevard — giving residents such as Humm and Kempt a free alternative to getting out of their neighborhood and into the shopping areas of south Fort Worth or Crowley.

One reason the closure of Old Granbury Road might come as a surprise to some is that, prior to about 2006, most people following the project believed that only the northernmost eight miles of the project within the Fort Worth limits would be built initially — so that’s the area that got the most attention from the public, said Bryan Beck, Fort Worth’s regional transportation coordinator.

The remaining 20 miles to the south, including the portion crossing Old Granbury, was considered a future phase, although the conceptual plans for all 28 miles were included in the original environmental study.

The idea of building the entire 28-mile toll road all at once came about beginning in 2006, when the North Texas Tollway Authority began to take the lead on the project.

Fort Worth and the Texas Department of Transportation gradually became secondary partners.

Free TollTags

Chisholm Trail Parkway is 50 years in the making, and many believe that when the toll road opens in about a year, it will spark feverish development in southwest Fort Worth and surrounding cities in Tarrant and Johnson counties.

For the roughly 500 residents of St. Francis Village, their retirement enclave near Benbrook Lake will likely be a little less secret. Country paths like Old Granbury Road will be replaced by wider, more modern facilities.

Brooks said county officials are in talks with the tollway authority to provide free TollTags to residents of St. Francis Village, perhaps giving them free use of the toll road for one or several years.

Brooks said he was told the funding could come from the county, or perhaps the Regional Transportation Council, but could not come from the tollway authority itself.

Humm said he won’t use the toll road, free or not. To him, it’s a matter of principle to avoid a paid road that sliced in half a perfectly good free road.

It’s unfair, he said, that those planning the road took such care to design beautiful overpasses and underpasses in areas such as Arborlawn Drive closer to Fort Worth’s city center, where neighborhood groups played a strong role in determining the aesthetics.

Planners also took care, he said, in the vicinity of Risinger Road/McPherson Boulevard, where plans call for residential and commercial development.

Old Granbury Road had no such champion, he said. Neither did nearby Stewart Feltz Road, which is also being sliced in half to make way for the parkway.

“I’ll drive three extra miles,” he said, “rather than take that toll road.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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