West Rosedale’s retrofit: “Stupid money” or smart?

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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West Rosedale retrofit: "Stupid" money or smart?

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In the front-porch, cocktail-hour chatter on the Near South Side these days, the project is sometimes referred to as “stupid money.”

The story of how taxpayers paid to rebuild West Rosedale Street through the hospital district into six lanes not long ago – and are now paying to take up part of the road for streetscape improvements designed to make the corridor pedestrian-friendly and draw business and more residents into it – is more complicated than that.

But everyone agrees on one thing. Paying to build the road, then tear part of it out no matter the strategy, is a waste.

“I think anyone would agree it’s an unnecessary expenditure of public funds,” said Fernando Costa, a Fort Worth assistant city manager.

The launch of construction on the streetscape improvements, expected to be completed as soon as December, revived a debate from several years ago on the overlapping projects.

Steve Hollern — former Tarrant County Republican Party chairman and a CPA who commutes from Ridglea to his offices on West Rosedale — has appeared at some of the road shows the city is holding on its proposed $293 million bond program, saying there’s no need for streetscape improvements on an arterial like West Rosedale and asking city officials why taxpayers should entrust them with more public money.

Councilman Jungus Jordan, who represents the far South Wedgwood/CandleRidge area, has used the case to call for specifics on pools of money in the proposed bond program for similar improvements in the central city’s “urban villages” and around planned TexRail train stations.

“Why would they destroy a street like that?” Hollern said. “It boggles my mind.”

Better coordination

After nearly two decades of planning, the Texas Department of Transportation, administering federal money, rebuilt the 1.5-mile piece of West Rosedale between Forest Park Boulevard and South Main Street to six lanes from four, completing it in August 2007 for $12 million. The state, which owned West Rosedale, gave it to the city afterward.

The city, at a projected cost of $5.47 million, now is converting the two outside lanes on the one mile between 8th Avenue and South Main to include streetfront parking, landscaped islands, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and lighting. It’s also rebuilding the medians to include irrigation and greenery.

City Council members unanimously approved a funding resolution for the project in September 2008, with the support of the Near South Side business community, led by the Fort Worth South economic development nonprofit.

City planners, even before TxDOT started rebuilding West Rosedale, asked the state to build a four-lane road and let the city add the street parking and other improvements.

But TxDOT officials, citing rules in the federal program that required the money go toward increasing capacity, told the city the state couldn’t build less than a six-lane road.

The city relented.

“The choice is to do nothing, or to do it in a two-stage fashion,” and the city proceeded based on the improvements’ potential benefits to the district, Costa said.

“The improvements make good sense; the way we’re funding it does not make good sense,” he said.

Asked if TxDOT has a problem with what Fort Worth is now doing, Val Lopez, a spokesman said, “Ultimately, this is a city street, and ultimately, any reconfiguration would be up to them.”

Jordan voted for the funding resolution, but he says the city should have worked harder to figure out a way around TxDOT’s interpretation of the rules.

“If we wanted a four-lane road, we should have built it as a four-lane road,” he said.

If nothing else the city and TxDOT, which were once “at odds,” are working much better today, Jordan said. “Today, we’re working as partners,” he said.

Paul Paine, president of Fort Worth South, said the improvements will help draw stores, restaurants, and commercial and residential redevelopment to West Rosedale.

“If demand for that goes up, then the pedestrian activity inside the urban core goes up,” he said. That drives demand for better housing – a survey of major Near South Side employers in 2005 found 2 percent of their workers lived on the Near South Side — and boosts the tax base, Paine said.

“These things have proven to be very beneficial for overall value,” he said.

“Road diets”

That makes sense for a street like West Magnolia Avenue, on which the city has made similar improvements, but not West Rosedale, which runs from Interstate 30 to Interstate 35W, Hollern said.

“These are office buildings, most of them are medical,” Hollern said. “There is no need for on-street parking. In Fort Worth, this is ridiculous.”

Moreover, the city needs the six lanes to manage traffic flow through the hospital district, and such “road diets” frustrate commuters and damage the appeal of suburbs, and Fort Worth risks further worsening air pollution, said Hollern, adding the issue should be raised prominently in the next council elections.

Fort Worth officials point out, however, that the city never contemplated more than a four-lane West Rosedale and that synching of traffic lights will effectively manage traffic flow through the area.

“Traffic gets caught up at the intersections; they don’t get caught up between intersections,” Pat Buckley, the city’s project manager for the West Rosedale project, said. “I’m confident that once we get everything done, the traffic will flow through there fine.”

Mayor Betsy Price, who was questioned on the matter during a recent community coffee on the Near South Side, has been critical of the overlapping projects but she said she doesn’t believe a six-lane West Rosedale is necessary.

“While I don’t approve of the way this came about, with the state building six lanes and the city going back to retrofit, I think the end product will be a good one,” she said.

Price is also a defender of urban villages. The city has 16, with design guidelines that encourage streetfront redevelopment and pedestrian activity.

Some of the older uses on West Rosedale may likely give way to redevelopment in future years, officials say.

“A successful urban village will safely accommodate cars, trains, pedestrians and cyclists, all in the same area,” Price said. “People are tired of the highway congestion, and they are looking for other transportation options. New – and especially young – residents tell us they want to live in the central city.”

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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Fort Worth's West Rosedale "retrofit"

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