Connecting Fort Worth’s thriving downtown to its trendy near south side has been in the making for years — even before downtown and the south side were cool places to be.
And Wednesday’s groundbreaking for the $28 million Hemphill-Lamar Street connector under Interstate 30 — a four-lane street and a pedestrian tunnel that includes sidewalks, bike lanes and public art — will be an important link between two of the city’s greatest economic drivers, said Paul Paine, president of Fort Worth South Inc.
“Key to that development, the private sector coming in and saying, ‘We believe in growing this,’ is the infrastructure, our street grid,” Paine said, adding that the area has benefited from $2.3 billion in public and private investment in 20 years.
“Today we are looking at a part of that street grid and infrastructure growth that gives us connectivity to our wonderful downtown.”
Robert Bass, president of the Keystone Group and a leader of the group advocating for the demolition of the Interstate 30 overhead in the 1980s, said the connector has been decades in the making.
Opponents of expanding the overhead came to number in the thousands under the name I-CARE, or I-30 Citizen Advocates for Responsible Expansion. Their goal was to bring down the overhead, not expand it.
In 1983, I-CARE sued in federal court, accusing federal and state transportation officials of ignoring the environmental and historical impact of expanding the interstate and failing to hold public hearings. They lost in U.S. district court but won in 1985 in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and, in 2002, workers began dismantling the overhead.
That vision from 30 years ago — to bring downtown and the south side together — is now coming to fruition, community leaders said at Wednesday’s event.
Jack Clark, chairman of the board of Downtown Fort Worth Inc, pointed to the Pinnacle Bank Place development, a mixed-use project that will include midrise buildings, street-level shops and restaurants, and lofts; and the Cadillac Lofts planned for the former Frank Kent Cadillac site as examples of revitalization in the area.
The connector project also includes a new rail bridge to support four existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks, and the four-lane major arterial will have 12-foot lanes, retaining walls, streetlights and traffic signals.
“It is the legacy of I-CARE and bringing people together to say what they want that I particularly love,” Mayor Betsy Price said.
The project should be completed in the summer of 2017, said Douglas Wiersig, city director of transportation and public works.
“The more we can hear from our citizens steering us, advising us and keeping projects on track — even if it is strung out over 50 or 30 years — really makes it easier.”
This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984