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Southwest Parkway construction to begin by year's end

FORT WORTH -- Construction will start on the Southwest Parkway by the end of the year, despite an apparent impasse with the Union Pacific Railroad, the head of the North Texas Tollway Authority said Tuesday.

A spokesman for the railway said the decision was a surprise.

The first phase of the toll road will start at Interstate 30 near downtown and connect to Altamesa Boulevard in southwest Fort Worth. But progress has bogged down because the city, the tollway authority and the Texas Department of Transportation haven't been able to get permission from the railroad to build a bridge over the rail yard along Vickery Boulevard.

"The bottom line is we've got to get it done. Every month that goes by increases the costs," said Jorge Figueredo, executive director of the tollway authority, during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Figueredo said the tollway authority plans to start construction at the southern end of the parkway by late summer or early fall. The exact starting point hasn't been determined. The tollway authority is planning a second phase of the road, called Chisholm Trail, that will extend south to Johnson County.

"If we can work an arrangement out with Chisholm Trail, we'll start way south," he said. "We've got to get dirt turning, it's got to be more than just a line on a map."

The city has been in charge of acquiring most of the right of way, but the city can't condemn railroad property. Officials have previously said that railroad executives asked for numerous concessions in return for permission to build the bridge, including extra track and a bridge over the Trinity River.

Mayor Mike Moncrief said he's spoken with Union Pacific CEO James Young, with little effect.

"There are just some requests being made by UP that are not doable," Moncrief said. "We can’t move our road."

The city and tollway authority have hired a Washington law firm to file a case with the federal Surface Transportation Board, which resolves disputes involving railroads. Figueredo said that process could take two or three years.

Joe Adams, vice president of public affairs for Union Pacific, said the actions by the city and the tollway authority were a surprise.

"We thought negotiations were proceeding well," Adams said in a written statement. "The plan to cross our railyard at its most critical point without making necessary adjustments in the track layout puts our operations at risk and compromises safety.

"In fact, if this critical yard were unable to function properly because of the toll road construction, it would have far reaching impact on Union Pacific train operations throughout Texas, Oklahoma."

Rail officials have previously said that the yard, which is on a main line that extends from coast to coast, is crucial to the railroad's operation. The footing for the bridge would be near the "hump" where strings of cars are separated and switched to make up trains. An average of one train an hour enters or leaves the yard each day.