A public art project that would spell out Fort Worth in large letters along Interstate 30 and welcome visitors to the city was supposed to be installed this spring.
But now the giant artwork, estimated to cost nearly $500,000, is being moved to another highway, prolonging a project that has been in the works for more than a decade and prompting at least one City Council member to question whether it’s all a waste of time and money.
“For this project to go on for 12 years. ... It’s starting to appear to be a shell game,” said District 6 Councilman Jungus Jordan.
Two years ago, the council approved spending money from the city’s public art fund to pay an artist and landscape architect for the long-planned Interstate 30 monument entrance sign that spells out “Fort Worth.” The hope was that the sign, with its large steel letters, would become as iconic as the famous Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.
In the last several months, however, the Federal Highway Administration revoked its approval, saying the sign is too large and would be in the possible path of a high-speed rail line that may be built between downtown Fort Worth and downtown Dallas, with a stop in Arlington.
Further complicating the project: the Texas Department of Transportation plans to expand the interstate in the next decade, according to a city report.
Local TxDOT representatives really tried to fight for the piece.
Martha Peters, vice president for public art, Arts Council of Fort Worth.
“Local TxDOT representatives really tried to fight for the piece,” said Martha Peters, vice president for public art with the Arts Council of Fort Worth. “All three things sort of converged. In the end, it’s something we did not anticipate. I wish there was something we could do.”
The preferred site now is on the north side of Texas 121, between Beach and Maxine streets, where motorists coming into downtown will see it. Even Fort Worth Public Art, the group that oversees the city’s public art program, admits the impact of the sign on the state highway will be far less than if it was on the interstate.
Texas 121 is viewed more as a commuter path for workers heading downtown and to west Fort Worth, as opposed to the interstate, which carries visitors through Texas.
Two years ago, the latest numbers available, the Texas 121 average daily traffic count at the proposed sign site was 151,132 vehicles, compared to 137,761 along I-30. So while more motorists likely will see the sign along 121, it won’t be the intended audience.
“It’s not the same, obviously,” Peters said. “We were very disappointed.”
The artist and landscape architect have agreed to redesign the project for the flatter and more narrow space, Peters said. The two were 90 percent through the TxDOT approval process for the I-30 site when it was revoked, Peters said.
The council report said the new site was approved by TxDOT four months ago.
Concerned about how public art monies are managed, Jordan said he plans to ask for a complete presentation on the program. He admits there have been some great public art projects, but many seem to take too long, including one planned for Chisholm Trail Park in his district.
If we’re using public dollars, we’ve got to be accountable. The council needs to be told what’s going on. We can’t stand for this perceived mismanagement.
Jungus Jordan, Fort Worth councilman
“If we’re using public dollars, we’ve got to be accountable,” Jordan said. “The council needs to be told what’s going on. We can’t stand for this perceived mismanagement. You don’t go 12 years with the money sitting in a bank. There’s something wrong here.”
The I-30 sign was to be 8-foot-tall steel letters, mounted on repurposed concrete construction barriers cascaded one-by-one for 500 feet perpendicular to the highway and lit after sunset. It was to be between Cooks Lane and Eastchase Parkway, near the city limit with Arlington.
Two years ago, when money was approved for the project, council members expressed concern over the time involved in this project. “At some point, we have to say enough is enough,” councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said then.
The Fort Worth monument sign, long supported as a beautification project by east Fort Worth residents, has been in the works since 2004 when it received a $265,000 Governor’s Community Achievement Award. Fort Worth Public Art took over the project in 2007, which was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in 2013.
For now, the city has agreed to spend $205,194 on the project, bringing costs to $470,194. Peters said the state money is still available, but it can only be used for materials and construction. Some of the delay was caused when the original artist withdrew from the project and a site closer to downtown along I-30 didn’t work out.
Peters said needed revisions in the project’s scope doesn’t mean it will go over budget, but it could add as much as another year for design and approval before construction can begin. The redesigned project has to be submitted for community and council approvals, she said.
Moreover, it can’t be referred to as a gateway monument project anymore, according to state guidelines. Rather, it’s now considered an “Art and Landscape Beautification” project, the report said.