February 17, 2013

Forest Park shortcut is gone for good

Residents living in the shadow of construction on the Chisholm Trail Parkway are feeling a bit less familiar with their city these days. One area of particular concern is Forest Park Boulevard.

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FORT WORTH -- Residents living in the shadow of construction on the Chisholm Trail Parkway are feeling a bit less familiar with their city these days. One area of particular concern is Forest Park Boulevard, a tree-lined thoroughfare connecting downtown Fort Worth with neighborhoods such as Mistletoe Heights and Berkeley Place.

For years, drivers have used Forest Park as a straight shot to eastbound Interstate 30, making it a road of choice for those trying to get to Arlington or Dallas or hop on Interstate 35W bound for Denton or Waco.

But a few weeks ago, the North Texas Tollway Authority, which is building the $1 billion toll road to connect downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne, severed that direct connection. Now, northbound Forest Park traffic seeking to enter eastbound I-30 must take a new frontage road to Summit Avenue, then pass through a traffic signal before entering a freeway ramp.

Some residents who complained about the situation were surprised to learn that the new alignment was the result of years of negotiations among the city, tollway authority and the leadership of their own neighborhoods.

"The first few days there were a lot of neighborhood emails with people upset about it," said Brent Beasley, a Baptist pastor who lives on Mistletoe Boulevard. "A few people didn't realize this was going to be a permanent change."

Some residents of Mistletoe Heights and Berkeley Place are irritated that what used to be a five-minute trip downtown can now takes three times that long using Forest Park Boulevard to I-30 -- although some have figured out that northbound traffic can stay on Forest Park and enter downtown from the west side.

In any case, the changed route is the result of a compromise hammered out in 2004, after six years of negotiations involving hundreds of residents serving on three city committees, said Bryan Beck, project manager for the city.

The challenge back then was how to merge the 28-mile-long Chisholm Trail Parkway with I-30 near Forest Park.

During the design of the northern end of the toll road, area residents opposed building flyover ramps to provide a direct connection from Forest Park Boulevard to I-30, saying an overhead span of roadway would be unsightly and noisy.

So an alternative was chosen -- building a new I-30 frontage road, and diverting Forest Park Boulevard traffic to the traffic signal at Summit Avenue, where another I-30 on-ramp was already in place.

Because of ongoing construction, the frontage road is currently reduced to one lane, and some residents have reported being stuck in line 12 to 15 minutes.

That arrangement is temporary. Crews are planning to open a second frontage road lane by the end of March, and will remove a stop sign just west of the Summit Avenue traffic signal, said tollway authority spokesman Michael Rey. By the end of construction in 2014, the frontage road will have four lanes, he said.

Fort Worth leaders have no regrets about the design of the Chisholm Trail Parkway and the local roads it intersects, said Kenneth Barr, the tollway authority board's chairman who was Fort Worth mayor during critical discussions on the project.

"It's going to be a beautiful road, and it's going to be that way because of the input of so many residents," Barr said. "If there are problems, we will work through them."

Chisholm Trail Parkway is on course to be completed in 2014, officials said.

The work zone has created bottlenecks on local roads, but tollway officials say they've been able to adjust.

For example, the four-lane Hulen Street bridge was a source of complaints after traffic was reduced to one lane in each direction. But a third lane is now open -- providing two northbound lanes to relieve morning congestion -- and a fourth lane will be open on the southbound side sometime in the spring, Rey said.

The bridge is expected to be completely finished by summer, he said.

More improvements along the Chisholm Trail Parkway corridor are coming this spring, although it's unclear if they'll be in place to help traffic during typically high-traffic events such as spring break at the Fort Worth Zoo and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, May 23-26 at Colonial Country Club.

The tollway authority is meeting with officials from the zoo, city, Fort Worth Transportation Authority and state transportation department to discuss spring break traffic, Rey said.

"We have notified them that there are no plans for additional major modifications/closures associated with the Chisholm Trail Parkway during spring break," he said.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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