Ice storm work has cost Tarrant County $500,000 so far

12/11/2013 6:06 PM

12/12/2013 8:50 AM

The Arctic blast that coated the area in a stubborn layer of ice will cost Tarrant County about $500,000, County Judge Glen Whitley estimated Wednesday at the Fort Worth Chamber’s third annual State of the County event.

County crews have worked at least 2,000 additional hours of overtime while dealing with the storm that started late Thursday and has kept roads icy for nearly a week, Whitley said at the luncheon at the Cendera Center in southwest Fort Worth.

“A lot of our folks are still working to clear the roads of this cobble ice,” he said, noting that county crews have spread about 700 tons of sand and 10 tons of salt on area roadways.

On Tuesday, the Fort Worth City Council was told that the city had spent an estimated $200,000 so far to deal with icy road conditions. The city had dumped more than 2,000 tons of sand by Tuesday morning.

Whitley also discussed county construction projects, progress at John Peter Smith Hospital and transportation issues during a question-and-answer session with Gary Cumbie, past chairman of the chamber.

Road diet changes

The judge even veered into Fort Worth’s lane with a suggestion to take North Forest Park Boulevard “off a road diet and onto steroids.”

He threw out the idea of converting the divided four-lane thoroughfare north of Interstate 30 into a one-way route to downtown in the morning and then reversing the flow back south in the afternoon to alleviate pressure on Interstate 30.

“I’m already thinking that at 8:30 in the morning, I-30 isn’t too good. What’s it going to be like when we dump another 50,000 folks in there,” Whitley said noting that he has not broached the idea with city officials.

“You heard it here, and I’m going to hear it later,” he said.

“It’s fixing to be a mess. I don’t know if it would work or not but if we can take Forest Park and let Chisholm Trail go north into town in the morning and go south in the afternoon, we ought to do it,” Whitley said after the event.

Educated workforce

The biggest challenges facing the county are maintaining an educated workforce to support new job growth and transportation issues, particularly mass transit, the judge said.

“We have been very fortunate to be able to attract new businesses and I think it’s critically important that we be able to supply new educated workers for those jobs,” he said.

Tarrant County has a population of 1.8 million but only about 800,000 people are in the jurisdiction of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, knows as The T.

“The dream would be to expand that to everyone that needs it,” he said.

Next year, the county is on track to finish a new 232,000-square-feet civil courts building, a new sub-courthouse in northeast Tarrant County and complete restoration of the west entry to the historic county courthouse.

Whitley also praised JPS Hospital, saying he “couldn’t be happier,” with the public hospital which serves as a teaching facility and the county’s only level one trauma center.

“JPS is excellent. In the last five years, they used to have 20 percent of the folks that came to the emergency room left without being seen. Now, it’s down to 7 percent,” he said.

With construction nearing completion on multiple complex highway projects, the county next needs to turn its focus onto areas west of Interstate 35 and north and west of the Chisholm Trail Parkway.

“We need to do some things on the west side. It’s almost an opportunity to build and they will come, they are coming anyway,” he said. “If we don’t build it … we are going to find ourselves in a real mess in the not-to-distant future.”

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