A long-delayed flood control project in Overton Woods has evolved into a street project that has residents in this affluent southwest Fort Worth neighborhood upset about its design, cost and whether the project is needed at all.
Years ago, when the Chisholm Trail Parkway was being planned and under construction nearby, residents in Overton Woods told the city they were concerned the new toll road would cause a traffic nightmare in their neighborhood, not to mention noise issues. Back then, the neighborhood was calling for traffic calming methods, such as roundabouts, to help with that.
Although traffic has increased over the years, nothing permanent was done because the bad traffic residents feared never materialized. Motorists have access to the Overton Woods neighborhood from the toll road from Arborlawn Drive. Instead, stop signs and crosswalks were installed along Bellaire Drive South, roughly from Overton Woods Drive to Arborlawn Drive.
Some residents are upset with the design of Bellaire Drive South after it’s rebuilt when utility work is completed.
The latest design, shown at a community meeting in August, shows the two lanes of traffic with a lane of parking in each direction being reduced to one lane of traffic in each direction and parking on the north side of the street. Bike lanes would be added on each side of the street along with a 10-foot sidewalk on the south side of the street.
Four roundabouts were initially planned, but that’s reduced to one, at Briarhaven Road, and that is needed as part of the storm water project, the city says. That’s where rainwater rushes across Bellaire Drive South. Increasing costs eliminated the other roundabouts.
Now that the city is in the final design stages of the project with construction scheduled to start in the fall of 2018, the Overton Woods neighborhood is pushing back. Signs heralding the message “Save Bellaire Drive” have been popping up in yards recently.
“The problem is that the city ... they’ve never had a formal or final proposal to present to the neighborhood,” said Travis Sanders, who started the yard sign campaign. Sanders said he has seen four versions of what might happen.
“To take Bellaire Drive and choke it down to two lanes ... it makes no sense at all,” Sanders said. “I’m not against roundabouts and I’m not against bike and pedestrian lanes. I am against bad project design. The most recent rendition has only been here since August. That’s when everyone got upset.”
Patricia Garsek, president of the Overton Woods Neighborhood Association, said the group has no official position on the issue. Instead, she said the association has worked with the city for many years spreading information about the project and hosting neighborhood meetings for the city.
She said she feels the city has been “thoughtful and careful” in the engineering of the project.
“It is a project intended to relieve flooding,” Garsek said. “I haven’t seen the current iteration and it would be unfair to say anything. I don’t want to see anyone’s home flood.”
Years in the making
The project began in 2010 when the city conducted a drainage study after flooding issues in the neighborhood surfaced. The neighborhood is adjacent to the Clear Fork of the Trinity River. Engineers have recommended putting in a large storm water detention box to collect the water.
The project is also partly based on a higher number of flood claims from the neighborhood, and is where many homeowners buy flood insurance, said Douglas Wiersig, Fort Worth’s Transportation and Public Works director.
Coupled with that, the city’s Water Department wants to replace an aging 42-inch sewer line under the street with a 60-inch line, and has agreed to move that project up to coincide with the storm water project. The sewer line wasn’t scheduled to be replaced until 2021. That way, taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay to tear up Bellaire Drive twice.
In deciding how to put back the street after the utility work is completed, Transportation and Public Works officials decided on a “complete street,” which adds the bike lane and other pedestrian improvements, and what seems to be becoming the norm in similar projects citywide.
Wiersig said the single-lane design will support the traffic count on the street. The roundabouts are installed to keep traffic flowing, he said.
Some residents in the neighborhood disagree and say the roundabout will make traffic worse and the street difficult to maneuver, particularly for the TCU ranch management students who drive through the neighborhood to get to campus in their trucks.
Roundabouts have been used in street projects citywide, including on the north side where residents who once feared them now say they’re happy with them, said Jay Chapa, an assistant city manager.
Some of the complaints about Bellaire Drive South have come from people who don’t live in Overton Woods; rather they use the street as a throughfare, Chapa said.
Fort Worth Councilman Brian Byrd, whose district includes Overton Woods, said he has met with some of the concerned residents, and city leaders and staff about the project. Another meeting is planned after Jan. 1.
Byrd said he’s even questioning just how extensive the flooding risk is and whether that can wait.
“The sewer line we have to do,” said Byrd, who called the entire project “very expensive.”
In October, the city was placing those costs at $15.2 million. A year ago, the City Council approved a $500,000 contract with Kimley-Horn Associates for design of improvements to the intersection on Bellaire Drive at Overton Woods Drive and Briarhaven Road.
Byrd said he knows the section of Overton Woods where the Edwards Ranch homestead is located does flood and that property will eventually be developed.
Some of the legendary Edwards Ranch became the tony neighborhoods of Tanglewood, Overton Park, Overton Crest and Overton Woods. It’s also where ranch land was sold for the development of Hulen Mall and Trinity Commons. In 2006, Cassco began work on parts of the ranch that were not easily reached until the Chisholm Trail Parkway was completed, including the 250-acre Clearfork development.
“Bellaire Drive is in perfect condition and does not need any physical alteration,” said Jacquelyn McCrary, in an email to the Star-Telegram. “The city’s plan to change Bellaire Drive includes the destruction of the entire street for a drainage project, in spite of the fact that this area has never flooded.”