Trinity River bridges taking shape
Construction on three landmark bridges that are a part of the $910 million Panther Island flood control and economic development project downtown will be joined by a fourth bridge, but instead of federal dollars this one will be paid for by Fort Worth taxpayers and by using impact fees paid by developers.
For years, artist renderings of the project showed a red dotted line labeled White Settlement Connector extending White Settlement Road from Henderson Street to Main Street over a planned canal.
But little information has been provided about this major road extension and bridge that is planned to carry traffic between the north and west sides and out of downtown.
The City Council is expected to vote by the end of January on the proposed impact fees, which are assessed on new development and used to help pay for infrastructure.
The most recent proposal includes the 800-acre Panther Island and identifies two projects that would be built using money collected from impact fees: the $7.5 million road and bridge connector and $2.5 million in intersection improvements at White Settlement Road and Main Street. There is no timetable for when those projects will be done, only that they could happen in the next 10 years.
It is the first time since the city started assessing transportation impact fees a decade ago that an inner city area is being included. Construction on the first residential development, Encore Panther Island, a 300-unit $55 million project, is anticipated to begin soon.
“Panther Island is a new development in an old area,” said District 2 Councilman Carlos Flores, whose district includes the area. “Impact fees should figure into this. We can’t be one-sided. The city can’t foot the entire bill, and developers can’t be required to foot the entire bill.”
The three landmark bridges are under construction at White Settlement Road, Henderson Street and North Main Street.
JD Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, the entity overseeing the Panther Island project once known as Trinity Uptown, said the fourth bridge will be “simple” and provide pedestrian access to complete the circular boardwalk around the planned town lake where restaurants and entertainment amenities are expected to be built. It will also connect the two sections of the island separated by a canal and lake.
“It’s a smart piece,” Granger said, adding, “It won’t be an iconic feature. It won’t be high in the air.”
Granger said he believes it’s reasonable to add Panther Island as an impact fee area and that he doubts developers will balk at the fee because of the benefit it provides.
New impact fee areas
A 2017 impact fee update identifies $1.4 billion in new roads that are eligible for impact fee funding, said Randle Harwood, the city’s planning and development director.
Panther Island is part of a public works project that spans about 1,800 acres north and east of downtown. When completed, it will create an island about the size of the central business district that will include an urban lake, room for 10,000 residential units and more than 4.4 million square feet of space for offices, shops and restaurants.
Until now, transportation impact fees were not assessed inside Loop 820, in part because the city’s arterial road system is complete and council members have not wanted to deter developers from areas where growth is needed. It’s not uncommon for builders add to the fee to the price of a new home and for developers to charge higher apartment rents.
Cities are hesitant to use impact fees, arguing that the cost could drive development elsewhere. Fort Worth’s fees haven’t changed since they started a decade ago. This time, city staff is suggesting raising them to account for inflation and increases in construction costs.
“We have to be very cognitive of what this does to values and rent properties,” Mayor Betsy Price said recently. Fort Worth has “to remain competitive in the market but balanced with the needs we see for the city.”
In effect in April
If approved, the new impact fee schedule goes into effect April 1. Had the Encore Panther Island project started after that date, it could have added as much as $405,000 to the project’s costs.
In the last decade, bond programs have paid $446.7 million in building arterial roads citywide, while developers have paid $78.4 million through impact fees.
Paying for Panther Island has been an issue since the project was conceived of nearly 20 years ago.
In 2016, Congress authorized up to $526 million in funding for Panther Island as part of a package of $5 billion in water projects proposed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. By 2017, the project had already received at least $53 million from the Army Corps of Engineers and $50 million in federal highway dollars.
Fort Worth has put $27.6 million in the pot through the 2004 and 2008 bond programs, the Water Enterprise Fund and the Tax Increment Financing District. Tarrant County has put in $11 million.
This article contains information from the Star-Telegram archives.