FORT WORTH — A new West Seventh Street bridge likely will open the first week of October, ending a four-month headache for motorists trying to get from downtown Fort Worth to the citys west side, officials said.Work on the structure, which features 12 signature concrete arches laced by stainless steel webbing, is a month ahead of schedule, they said. By Oct. 6, or perhaps a day or two sooner, motorists likely will be allowed to drive across the bridge.Were almost to the point where we can open it back up to traffic. The project is progressing very aggressively, said Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Val Lopez. At this point, theyve nearly completed pouring the entire deck.The contractor, Sundt Construction of San Antonio, will continue working in the area for many weeks, Lopez said. Although the driving lanes are expected to be open by early October, pedestrian walkways, landscaping and other work will remain to be done even while an estimated 12,000 vehicles per day begin to use the bridge.Opening the bridge to traffic is welcome news for merchants along the bustling West Seventh corridor, which is now home to some of the most popular shops and restaurants in the city.Ive heard rumors, but nothing concrete, Debbie Bell Allen, owner of Dee Jays Candles on West Seventh Street, said when asked if she knew about the planned early October bridge opening. Fingers and toes crossed!Since June 8, when the old bridge was closed and later demolished, motorists traveling to and from downtown have been detoured to West Lancaster Avenue. Others have opted to use White Settlement Road as an alternate route.Glamour shotThe result has been long lines of cars and delays of 10 minutes or longer during rush hours.The Fort Worth Transportation Authority, an agency also known as the T, has experienced a noticeable drop in ridership on buses in the area. During a meeting last week, T officials said they suspected the bridge project contributed to the decrease.In August, ridership on Route 2 Camp Bowie typically one of the regions busiest bus corridors, was down 12 percent compared to the same month last year. The T tallied 70,856 riders on Route 2 in August, compared to 80,385 riders during the same month in 2012.Route 2 has been detoured to West Lancaster Avenue since May to make way for bridge work, and some riders have complained about delays. The T also increased Route 10 service to improve access to the Montgomery Plaza area.Sundt stands to earn a bonus of up to $990,000 for getting the project done so quickly. The companys $25.9 million contract with the Texas Department of Transportation allows the bridge to be closed for up to 150 days, but offers the contractor incentives of $30,000 per day for up to 30 days to get the work done early. The 150th day would be Nov. 5, so if the work is done by Oct. 6 the contractor could receive the maximum bonus of $990,000, Lopez said.Its been amazing to me how quickly theyve been able to pull it together, said Phillip Poole, a Fort Worth architect and board member of the Cultural District Alliance. I walked under it Sunday, and theres one section under the pedestrian cantilevers theyre getting ready to pour. I think when they take all the wrapping off the stainless steel elements, its going to really shine.Several civic groups are planning a big bash to celebrate the opening of the new bridge, which is expected to forever change the citys skyline.But those groups arent in a hurry to host the party. Instead, they would rather wait until the bridges cosmetic work is complete.Were all comfortable that in November it probably will be ready for its glamour shot, said Stacey Pierce, Streams & Valleys executive director. Right now, she said, the tentative plan is to hold a weekend of events, possibly Nov. 15-16, with a Friday evening event requiring attendees to buy tickets followed by a Saturday daytime event that would be free of charge and would feature a parade across the bridge.Specific plans are still being hashed out, she said. The Saturday parade could be a chronological celebration of the bridges 100-year history, with the Fort Worth Herd, old automobiles, modern vehicles and bicycles crossing in a procession.Exercise in compromiseBefore the contract to build a new bridge was inked several years ago, state and city officials met often with area business owners to map out a plan to minimize traffic disruptions.Ultimately, they decided to close the bridge all at once, on the condition that the work could be substantially completed after Mayfest but before the Christmas shopping season.The project was an exercise in compromise for the transportation department, city and area businesses. Under normal conditions, building a bridge of that size on-site would require more than a year of road closures. But the transportation department and Sundt arranged to precast the bridge arches a few blocks away on land owned by Chesapeake Energy making it unnecessary to close the old bridge until the arches were ready for installation.Beginning in May, the enormous arches were slowly rolled into place and attached to supports in the Trinity River. Then, the old West Seventh Street bridge was demolished, to make room for construction of the new span.Building the new bridge became a priority several years ago, when state inspectors realized that the old bridge which was completed in 1913 and expanded in 1953 was decaying to the point that it was becoming a safety hazard. In a March 2010 inspection the bridge scored a 38.8 on a 100-point scale, indicating structural deficiency, according to the 2010 National Bridge Inventory reviewed by the Star-Telegram.State officials noted advanced deterioration and spalling, or flaking off of concrete, and exposed rebar, flaws that if left unaddressed would have compromised the bridges ability to support weight.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson