Airport Freeway work is too close for comfort for some

Posted Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Kevin Methner’s appraised property value has dropped about 25 percent from $180,700 in 2008 to $135,000 last year. More importantly to him, his dream of creating a lifelong home environment for his disabled daughter appears uncertain.

To find out why, all anyone has to do is look past his back yard.

There’s the roar of expansion of Texas 121/183 (Airport Freeway) from six lanes to 10 lanes, with new frontage and access lanes. Methner and others nearby knew the project was bound to affect their neighborhood of large homes and mature trees.

They didn’t realize how much, especially for Methner now that the path of a sound wall expected to be about 16 feet tall has been adjusted to come within a few feet of his backyard property line.

Project officials say they’re sensitive to community concerns and are trying to work with residents. They said the sound wall move was necessary to provide more space to accommodate motorists and emergency vehicles on the freeway.

The residents want a sound wall but worry that the current route will prevent airflow and trap fumes in their neighborhood, bordered by the highway to the north, businesses to the west, Precinct Line Road to the east and Bedford-Euless Road to the south.

From their perspective, they’re losing a buffer.

They say they have already faced a plethora of problems that they contend stem from the construction: cracked walls and floors, exhaust fumes, blowing trash and mosquitoes from standing water.

They say their mistake was not getting promises in writing, or in a contract, and not having a lawyer present during public meetings with the state.

They said their experience should serve as a lesson to other area residents living along highways planned for expansion, such as Interstate 35W and Texas 183.

“It’s a warning to anybody who’s living within a certain proximity,” Methner said. “Somehow, we who fit into that category are afterthoughts.”

In response, Robert Hinkle, corporate affairs director for NTE Mobility Partners, said the state bought the property and tore down the houses closest to the highway that were once part of Methner’s neighborhood.

Road work has consumed so much of the purchased land that officials have few options for corridor operations. The wall was reconfigured partly to allow for space where motorists can pull over if they have a flat tire or where trucks or plows can park in anticipation of a snowstorm or ice storm.

Hinkle said he does not know whether the space will be paved. State Transportation Department officials referred questions to Hinkle.

Regarding other neighborhood complaints, Hinkle said the Transportation Department and NTE Mobility Partners have tried to address any concerns that residents have.

They meet weekly with city officials to discuss issues that might arise. They have worked with subcontractors to minimize light and noise.

“We want to make sure we’re good neighbors,” Hinkle said. “We want to make sure we’re part of the community.”

Work on the sound wall should begin in the fall and take three months to complete, Hinkle wrote in an email.

Fighting traffic

The $2.5 billion, 13.5-mile North Tarrant Express project calls for widening Loop 820 and Airport Freeway from Industrial Boulevard in Euless to I-35W in Fort Worth. Few Northeast Tarrant County residents would dispute the need for the expansion.

For years, traffic was often at a standstill, particularly between Rufe Snow Drive and North Beach Street and between Precinct Line Road and Texas 121.

In most of the North Richland Hills section, four of the lanes, two lanes each way, will be open traffic lanes.

The other four lanes will be toll lanes. Methner’s neighborhood lies along a wider section of the highway. The entire project, which began in October 2010, is expected to be completed by June 2015.

As the houses closest to the highway were being demolished and debris removed, neighborhood resident Jan Lary started noticing cracks in her patio, movement of the concrete pad that supports her air conditioning/heating unit and cracks on her interior walls.

Methner said he also has cracks in his interior and exterior walls.

The standing water caused by construction has created a horrific mosquito problem, Lary said.

And she said she finds coffee cups, candy bar wrappers, plastic bags and other trash on her lawn. And tall grass nearby has attracted rats.

“I knew we were going to have some discomfort, but I never dreamed it would get into something like this,” Lary said.

Now she said she cannot go out and enjoy her yard.

“In April 2013, they reopened the access road and at times the traffic backs up to a complete stop, and I could literally have a conversation with the drivers as they are that close to my front yard, and the exhaust fumes are choking,” Lary wrote in an email.

Sound wall issues

The planned sound wall route gets the most attention from residents. They say the plan presented to them during public meetings and events a few years ago showed a smooth linear route with a buffer zone.

“That was the rendering that they showed us,” Lary said. “Everybody thought that.”

A year or two ago, Methner said, he saw that the route had changed to the present configuration when he visited the North Tarrant Express information center off Airport Freeway in North Richland Hills.

Methner said he bought his Dutch Colonial in 2005 because he was impressed by the attention to detail. The floor has 140-year-old bricks from former Fort Worth streets and wood from a 200-year-old New England barn, while the outside has wrought-iron gates and fences from a New Orleans hotel.

Methner said he bought the lot across the street about three years later so he could create a group home for his autistic daughter, Melody, 8, and others with disabilities when she becomes an adult.

Methner, a management consultant, was planning to create a trust to fund the group home.

However, the current route will put the sound wall just a few feet from where he wants to build the group home. The original route put the wall 70 to 90 feet from his back yard, he said.

Plans for the group home are in flux, he said.

The neighbors have turned to state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth. Their representatives said that their offices had made phone calls on the residents’ behalf.

“From what I understand negotiations are currently underway between the homeowners and local officials to resolve this problem, but we will continue to monitor this situation closely to ensure private property rights are not unduly infringed upon,” Klick wrote in an email.

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