Along the Clear Fork of the Trinity River, there has been talk of building a bridge for years.
The project has always had to span troubled waters, with Benbrook officials pushing for the bridge to connect sections of the city divided by the river, while nearby homeowners successfully opposed it, voicing concerns that the boost in traffic would disturb their tranquil neighborhood.
Now Benbrook officials have resurrected the bridge plan, saying that it will only be used for emergency access to neighborhoods in northeast Benbrook, where they say response times are close to 7 1/2 minutes, compared to 5 minutes in the southern part of the city.
“Right now, we have two options,” Benbrook City Manager Andy Wayman said. “We go through the Bryant-Irvin intersection — and you know what a mess that can be — or you take Vickery, which includes a rail-grade crossing. You can face traffic if you go one way or trains if you go the other.”
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But a dozen homeowners groups in both southwest Fort Worth and northeast Benbrook are dubious, saying it’s a smokescreen to gain more access to commercial property on the other side of the river. They’ve formed a coalition to oppose the bridge’s construction and point to comments by a city official last January that appear to show the city has other plans for the bridge.
To say this is about emergency access, it is not.
Benbrook resident Richard O’Glee
“I don’t believe it,” said Richard O’Glee, a resident of Benbrook’s Mont Del Estates. “I believe this is strictly about the commercial access to aid developments along Interstate 20. To say this is about emergency access, it is not.”
The suspicion that the bridge is designed for more than emergency traffic gained traction following comments at a Jan. 12 Benbrook Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner David Ramsey asked why the bridge wouldn’t be open to the public.
Bennett Howell, Benbrook’s director of public services said “a decision was made to limit access to only emergency personnel at this time. However, staff is hopeful that the neighborhood opposition will subside once the bridge is completed,” according to the minutes from the meeting.
Howell wasn’t speaking for the City Council, Benbrook Mayor Jerry Dittrich said.
The Benbrook City Council has been clear that this is an emergency access-only bridge.
Benbrook Mayor Jerry Dittrich
“While we appreciate our staff’s opinion and expertise, it is not binding and we consider many factors, including citizen input, before making any decision,” Dittrich said in an email. “The Benbrook City Council has been clear that this is an emergency access-only bridge.”
Benbrook officials are expecting a report from a Freese & Nichols on the proposed bridge later this summer. While no firm dollar figure has been set, Wayman said it is expected to cost about $1.5 million and is at least a year from the start of construction.
The Benbrook city manager said there are no plans to develop the south side of Interstate 20. The north side of the highway is already under development and is zoned office/light industrial so “a bridge makes no difference to this type of land use,” Wayman said.
If there is truly a concern about emergency response times, O’Glee said, Benbrook should reach an agreement with Fort Worth to respond to calls in those northeast Benbrook neighborhoods.
Benbrook officials say they’re willing to explore the idea.
“Clearly, we are open to solutions that make sense for the citizens we serve,” Dittrich said. “However, we firmly believe that maintaining the status quo will ultimately put lives in danger.”
The coalition led by Fort Worth resident Carol Guarnieri has mailed out information to residents and is planing a petition drive they hope to present to the Benbrook City Council by August. If necessary, Guarnieri said, they would file litigation to stop the bridge. The neighborhoods fought off another Clear Fork Bridge proposal in 2010.
Guarnieri has already seen traffic multiply along Bellaire Drive South as drivers seek to avoid congestion on nearby Bryant Irvin Road.
“We have kind of lived this little, quiet existence and if you put 5-7,000 cars a day through there, you’re going to ruin the quality of life in this neighborhood and other neighborhoods around here,” Guaranieri said. “It will be a nightmare.”