Pedestrian bridge rises along Trinity River near downtown

FORT WORTH -- Ann Smith wasn't going to let the occasion go by without a little ceremony.

While dignitaries and onlookers watched cranes lift the steel arch for the Phyllis Tilley Memorial Bridge into place over the Trinity River, Smith, who is Tilley's daughter, had her own celebration planned.

Under the trees in Trinity Park, she had set out her picnic, including a bottle of wine, to honor her mother, who helped create Mayfest and formed the nonprofit group Streams and Valleys to clean up the river and encourage residents to use it.

"When she started, the Trinity was just that muddy ditch that everybody ignored," said Smith, who now lives on South Padre Island. "It had been channelized and it wasn't very pretty. But she got everybody involved, and look it at it now. When I saw kayaks out there and all of these bikers and runners using the trails, I kept thinking she would be thrilled to see it today."

After Tilley's death, there was a debate about how best to honor her. The pedestrian bridge, which will connect Trinity Park and downtown, was considered an appropriate honor because it is likely to bring even more people to the Trinity Trails system.

When it is completed in August, the 364-foot stress-ribbon bridge, designed by Boston architect Miguel Rosales, will be the first of its kind in the United States. A precast concrete deck will be laid across a pair of steel cables, which will be taut like a rubber band, then linked from one bank to the other. The design decreases how much of an obstruction the bridge will be during floods and is intended to visually complement the nearby Lancaster bridge.

The $3 million project was originally supposed to be completed last year, but the project's design and other issues took time to resolve, said Richard Zavala, parks and community services director.

Federal grants administered by the Texas Department of Transportation provided $2.3 million while the city kicked in $459,000 and Streams and Valleys raised $200,000 from private donors, said David Creek

When completed, the bridge is expected to provide a valuable link for cyclists and pedestrians between Trinity Park and downtown.

For many cyclists wanting commute to downtown, the bridge will provide a much easier option.

"Cyclists have had to get off and go over Seventh Street Bridge," said Adelaide Leavins, Streams and Valleys executive director. "Once [the Tilley Bridge] opens, we hope it will increase cycling commuters into downtown. It's just an easier commute."

A trail head on the east side will lead to Fifth Street as a gateway into downtown.

If Tilley were still around, her daughter said, she would be flattered with the honor but would still be pushing to do more.

"It just shows what you can do if you put your mind to it," Smith said. "She was soft-spoken. You really had to listen to hear what she had to say. Everybody would follow her because she had great ideas and she never stopped going. I can't remember how many times she had me out trimming trees with her up and down this river."

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna