After nearly 50 years of planning, the 28-mile Chisholm Trail Parkway project is now officially under way.
Motorists will be asked to endure traffic delays, narrow lanes and other mostly minor traffic annoyances for the next 21/2 years along routes such as Interstates 30 and 20, Vickery Boulevard and Bryant Irvin Road as the toll road is built from central Fort Worth across southwest Tarrant County to Cleburne.
Some of the work along I-30 near Summit Avenue, and West Vickery Boulevard near University Drive, could begin in the next week or two, a project official said. A large swath of land on the south side of I-30 between University and Summit has already been cleared of trees and other obstacles.
But on Tuesday, dozens of officials were all smiles as they commemorated the beginning of a $1.6 billion project -- including $1.4 billion in construction costs alone -- first envisioned in 1962.
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"I think I speak for a whole lot of people when I say: 'It's about time,'" said Kenneth Barr, a former Fort Worth mayor and current chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority, the lead agency on the project. Barr noted that Johnson County boasts a museum about the Chisholm Trail, the historical cattle trail for which the toll road is named.
"I recently learned the artifacts in the museum are older than the plans for this parkway," he quipped.
A road serving southwest Fort Worth has been planned for nearly a half-century. But development in other parts of Tarrant County -- including the arrivals of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in the 1970s and Alliance Airport in the 1980s -- pushed it down the priority list for transportation dollars. When supporters of the project, then known as Southwest Parkway, pressed for costly aesthetic improvements to minimize the impact on old neighborhoods, city and state officials turned to the Plano-based tollway authority to help finance the project.
The project is unusual in that its pathway through southwest Fort Worth is mostly undeveloped but intersects many busy roadways that have been in place for decades.
For many motorists, the traffic changes won't be a huge surprise.
Some of the initial Chisholm Trail Parkway work actually began in early 2010, when North Texas officials dedicated about $140 million in federal stimulus funds to kick-start construction of the interchanges with I-20 in southwest Fort Worth and U.S. 67 in Cleburne. Also, a new Hulen Street bridge over the Davidson railroad yard in west Fort Worth is under construction to make way for the new road.
But with the beginning of full-blown work this month, residents of many well-established neighborhoods along the route are expressing worry about the effects on their daily lives.
During a meeting with tollway officials Monday night at the Botanic Garden, Overton Woods resident Geoffrey Sieber asked why northbound Hulen Street traffic had been reduced to one lane -- and the cloverleaf turn to Vickery Boulevard eliminated. The result, he said, is long waits for motorists, who often can't get across the bridge while trucks try to make a hairpin turn to Vickery.
"Is that what you had in mind?" Sieber asked tollway officials. "That whole thing has turned into a disaster."
The tollway authority is working with the city to lengthen green lights for northbound Hulen traffic and perhaps add temporary pavement to the bridge's northern end to make turning easier, said Elizabeth Mow, the agency's interim assistant executive director for project delivery.
Marc Rogers, who tracks noise issues for the Mistletoe Heights Neighborhood Association, said he still can't get clear answers about why a different type of sound-absorbing material isn't planned for a sound wall near his home.
But many of those concerns were hashed out in years of negotiations between the city and tollway authority, who jointly came up with a development plan that will give the tollway design features not seen on any other road in North Texas.
For example, the northern end of the parkway will have an engineered speed limit of 50 mph, to minimize tire noise. Such details may be overlooked by residents who moved to Fort Worth after the tedious details were worked out.
"During the past 30 years, Fort Worth's citizens, businesses and institutions have been intimately involved in deciding what kind of a road it's going to be," said Bill Meadows, a Texas Transportation Commission member and former Fort Worth councilman who has worked on the tollway project for more than two decades. "From the Mistletoe Heights Neighborhood Association, to the Citizens Advisory Committee, to the 7,000-tree landscape plan, our citizens traveled the country to see how we could make this road the very best it can be."
The plan is to open the entire road by mid-2014, Mow said. The precise dates of lane closures and other such events aren't known, but some changes may happen in a week or two, she said.
Narrow lanes on I-30 between Summit Avenue and University Drive. Occasional lane closures at eastbound I-30 and Summit.
West Vickery Boulevard closed east of University.
I-30 westbound frontage road turnaround closed at the Fort Worth & Western Railroad.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796