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Fort Worth bridge implosion felt far from the source

03/17/2013 11:06 PM

03/22/2013 11:11 AM

Update: About 10:20 p.m. Monday, the old Weatherford Street bridge was demolished as planned, according to a TxDOT spokesman.

But for residents as far away as Arlington, the blast shook the ground, rattled windows and created a bit of a scare. Fort Worth 911 operators were overwhelmed with calls, a police spokesman said.

"They're jamming our lines right now," police Capt. Kevin Rodricks said.

Val Lopez, a spokesman for the state transportation department, called it "a good drop."

"It was quite impressive," said Lopez, who watched from about as close as a civilian could get the set of bridges on the eastern edge of downtown Fort Worth.

"It went straight down, and there was very, very, very little debris."

Before the blast, TxDOT spokeswoman Jodi Hodges had said: "There may be some small explosives, but we're not advertising that to the world. It's very controlled and very minor. We've certainly talked with all the local fire department and police and all that, but mostly it's just demolishing that bridge and hauling off the debris."

Rodricks, who watched the demolition with other officers, said everyone was surprised by how loud the explosion was, including one military veteran.

-- Bill Miller

After years of neglect, downtown Fort Worth area bridges are getting quite a bit of attention these days.

But beginning Monday, motorists trying to get in and out of the downtown area may encounter traffic snarls -- both to the east and the west.

On the west side of downtown, Forest Park Boulevard will be closed for up to 10 days beginning Monday at West Seventh Street as workers begin digging column shafts for the planned new West Seventh Street bridge.

On the east side, various roads near the old Weatherford Street bridge will be closed from 6 p.m. Monday to noon Tuesday for demolition of the old structure. On Monday evening, southbound I-35W will be reduced to one lane from 8:30 p.m. to midnight, and the Texas 121 exit to southbound I-35W will be detoured to northbound I-35W.

As the Fort Worth area continues its building boom, motorists are finding more and more orange barrels away from downtown as well. Late last week in southwest Fort Worth, for example, motorists on Texas 183 and Bryant Irvin Road experienced minor delays and detours as workers installed new beams for the Chisholm Trail Parkway project. More work is expected in that area in the coming weeks.

And that's not to mention all the orange barrels on the North Tarrant Express project on Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 in Northeast Tarrant County, and the DFW Connector project on Texas 114/121 in Grapevine -- projects that have been a part of residents' lives for more than three years.

Minimizing impact

Downtown, the closures are being timed to minimize the impact on motorists trying to get in and out of downtown during the work week, said Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jodi Hodges.

The Forest Park closure, which won't begin until after morning rush hour is concluded, could be completed in fewer than 10 days, she said.

"It's all dependent on the soil conditions they find, and the weather," she said.

The street is being closed for work that needs to be done on the structure overhead -- the replacement of the century-old West Seventh Street bridge. The bridge will be rebuilt during the summer and will feature majestic, lighted arches.

Some of the early work involves digging shafts for the new bridge columns -- an effort that requires heavy machinery on or near Forest Park. The road could be closed through March 27 and again April 3-12, said transportation department spokesman Val Lopez.

Motorists are urged to find alternate routes between downtown and neighborhoods such as Berkeley Place, but those who stay on Forest Park will be detoured to West Fifth Street, West 10th Street and Penn Street.

East downtown

On Weatherford Street, the excitement is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Monday. That's when Gilvin Street, a small industrial street below the bridge, will be closed.

Then, beginning at 8:30 p.m., the new Weatherford Street bridge and parts of East Belknap Street, South Live Oak Street, Pharr Street and the southbound I-35W frontage road will be closed. Gawkers won't have much of a place to watch the demolition, and there won't be much to see anyway, Hodges said. The area is surrounding by highway access roads and rows of railroad tracks.

"There may be some small explosives, but we're not advertising that to the world. It's very controlled and very minor," she said. "We've certainly talked with all the local fire department and police and all that, but mostly it's just demolishing that bridge and hauling off the debris."

The demolition will allow crews to complete construction of the new Weatherford Street bridge by the fall, she said. The project includes reconstruction of the bridge itself, approaches, a new southbound exit ramp to I-35W, an extended deceleration lane, retaining walls and better drainage and lighting.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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