Fort Worth

Why is it taking so long to build those bridges over the Trinity River?

While you take detours Trinity bridges are taking shape

The detours will last until early 2020 on north Main Street, White Settlement Road and Henderson Street as 20 distinctive V-shaped piers are built to bridge the re-channeled Trinity River that is part of the Trinity River Vision.
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The detours will last until early 2020 on north Main Street, White Settlement Road and Henderson Street as 20 distinctive V-shaped piers are built to bridge the re-channeled Trinity River that is part of the Trinity River Vision.

Three bridges over Fort Worth’s Trinity River just north of downtown are now set to open in 2020, a year later than previously scheduled.

The bridges — all of which are under construction — would connect the city to the planned Panther Island project. The structures are being built over dry land at North Main Street, Henderson Street and White Settlement Road.

The Panther Island project is an ambitious, $1.1 billion effort to re-channel the Trinity River north of downtown and create an 800-acre island with homes, businesses and attractions.

The island would be built in the area that currently features LaGrave Field and the Coyote Drive-In.

A stylish riverwalk would be created along the river and pass under the three bridges.

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Artist rendering of Panther Island gathering spot. Trinity River Vision Authority

Construction of the bridges is taking place over dry land to save time and money, said Val Lopez, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman. Once the bridge work is done, the new river channel can be dug beneath them.

“Construction will continue through early 2020,” Lopez said.

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Construction of bridges along north Main Street that will go over rechanneled water of the Trinity River as part of the Trinity River Vision progresses, Friday, July 13, 2018. Rodger Mallison rmallison@star-telegram.com

He added that the initial bridge contract was for $65.5 million, but “the total cost of the project is still being determined.”

Although the transportation department is handling the bridge work, the bulk of the Panther Island project is being overseen by the Trinity River Vision Authority, which is an arm of the Tarrant Regional Water District. Those agencies are working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the Trinity River and the nation’s system of waterways and reservoirs.

Panther Island has been planned for more than a decade, and at times the Trinity River Vision Authority has struggled to obtain funding for the project, which is being billed not only as an economic development effort but a crucial flood control improvement project to protect Fort Worth’s city center from future storm water drainage problems.

Trinity River bridge constr (3)
Construction of bridges along White Settlement Road that will go over rechanneled water of the Trinity River as part of the Trinity River Vision progresses, Friday, July 13, 2018. Rodger Mallison rmallison@star-telegram.com

In May, Fort Worth-area voters approved the issuance of about $250 million in bonds to ensure there would be enough local money to build Panther Island, much of which is being federally funded.

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Artist drawing of Panther Island bridge featuring signature V-pier. Freese and Nichols, Inc.

The bridges feature unusual, V-shaped piers. The design focuses the aesthetics of the project on the area below the bridge deck — where the riverwalk would be — leaving the top of the structures a flat surface mainly for automobile use.

The bridge construction was delayed several years, in part because Texas Department of Transportation inspectors wanted to take a closer look at the design of the piers to ensure they were appropriate for holding the bridge weight.

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Artist rendering of Panther Island, looking south from Fort Worth’s North Side. Trinity River Vision Authority


But the design eventually was cleared, and construction has been moving at a brisker pace since early last year.

Jim Oliver, water district general manager, said the approval of the bond sales by about two-thirds of voters was “very important. It’s going to allow us to complete the project, keep it online and on track.”

The money is needed to buy land, rechannel 1.5 miles of the river and build water storage areas and floodgates, he said.

The goal is to complete the Panther Island project by 2028, although it could take many more years for private developers to fill in the 800 acres of prime real estate.

The water district has predicted that property tax revenue will generate more than $770 million over the next 26 years, which could easily cover the $250 million in bonds and associated costs.

Without this bond program, water district officials say they might have had to eventually raise the tax rate by about 8 cents to raise the levees and modernize Fort Worth’s flood control.

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson

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