FORT WORTH -- The regulars still come in for bagels at Yogi's Deli and Grill, but not as often as they used to.
"A trio was in here in the morning. They're regulars, but I haven't seen them since Christmas," owner Yogi Florsheim said while sitting in a nearly empty dining area Friday afternoon. Then, pointing to the massive work zone just outside his door, at the south end of the Hulen Street bridge, he said, "I asked them, 'Where have y'all been?' And they said, 'We don't come this way anymore. It's because of this bridge.'"
For nearly 50 years, the Chisholm Trail Parkway project seemed like a pipe dream. But now that construction of the toll road is under way, the impact is very real for motorists in southwest Fort Worth.
Ground broke late last year on the long-planned toll road. But even before the ceremonial shovels were turned, the first major traffic hiccup had emerged -- the construction of a new Hulen Street bridge over the Davidson railroad yard. The new bridge is being built about 10 feet higher and slightly to the east of the old bridge, to make room for Chisholm Trail Parkway to cross the yard.
While all this work is under way, only one lane in each direction is open on the old Hulen Street bridge, and traffic has ground to a halt. The problem is especially bad on the northbound side, where a single-file line of cars sometimes more than 40 deep waits to get across. Delays of five minutes are common, and there have been reports of delays surpassing 20 minutes.
Businesses such as Yogi's are hanging on as best they can, hoping the traffic picture improves quickly. The bridge will likely remain only a single lane in each direction for the next 18 months, although North Texas Tollway Authority officials say they're taking steps to improve the flow.
Trying to unkink traffic
To move northbound traffic more quickly, extra pavement is being added on the north end of the bridge landing to make room for a right-turn lane. That way, traffic trying to turn right onto the clover-leaf entrance to West Vickery Boulevard can get out of the way of traffic going north on Hulen Street.
The roughly 100-yard-long and 20-yard-wide stretch of pavement was being added late last week, and tollway officials said they hoped to have the turn lane finished by the end of February.
The emergency fix was made at the request of motorists and area residents who said the line at the bridge was simply unbearable. To make room, the tollway authority had to build part of the bridge landing for the new Hulen Street bridge several months earlier than scheduled.
"We knew that hard right lane and single turn lane stacked up traffic. We're building a strip out of sequence. It will become an additional right lane," tollway spokesman Michael Rey said. "It's a little more expensive, but the neighborhood is crying out for it."
Tollway authority officials say they're trying to improve communications with area residents and to respond to complaints and concerns. They've invited residents and business owners to two meetings at 2 and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fort Worth Academy, 7301 Dutch Branch Road, to air concerns and ask questions about the project.
The 28-mile toll road, which cuts diagonally across Tarrant and Johnson counties from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.S. 67 in Cleburne, is expected to open in mid-2014. But until then, motorists can expect headaches in several areas. One of the hot spots is Southwest Boulevard (also known as Texas 183), where during the next three weeks traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction near Interstate 20.
On Hulen Street, some area shoppers are taking the mess in stride.
Paul and Sue Harris, who live in southwest Arlington, stopped at Calloway's Nursery on the south side of the bridge Friday afternoon to buy some hanging plants.
They're regulars in the area. Sue Harris gets her nails done at a salon in that part of town. Paul Harris has cardiac rehabilitation in a nearby medical center. They also buy bird seed in the area.
But they're not surprised that motorists are losing patience with the traffic.
"Isn't it silly?" said Paul Harris, a Bell Helicopter retiree.
Sue Harris, who works at Lockheed, noted that the Hulen Street bridge work began long before the Chisholm Trail Parkway project kicked off in December.
"This mess has been here more than a year," she said. "What's taking them so long?"