Fort Worth

Panther Island contractor: Bridge changes could drive up costs, delay project

Engineer explains Panther Island flood prevention project

Tarrant Regional Water District engineer, Woody Frossard explains how the Panther Island flood prevention project works.
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Tarrant Regional Water District engineer, Woody Frossard explains how the Panther Island flood prevention project works.

An attorney representing the construction company building the three bridges for Panther Island contends that changes to project have topped $10 million and proposed revisions by the Texas Department of Transportation could escalate costs and delay completion by six to 12 months.

Already more than a year behind schedule, work has slowed on three bridges Sterling Construction Co. has been building since 2015 as part of the $1.17 billion flood-control project near downtown Fort Worth. The bridges will connect the future Panther Island to downtown via White Settlement Road, North Main Street and Henderson Street. Once they’re completed, the Army Corps of Engineers will dig a bypass channel designed to provide flood protection and create an 800-acre island in the process.

In a letter dated Thursday, Sterling’s lawyer, Frank Hill of Arlington, claimed design flaws in the bridges have delayed construction.

The bridges feature a unique V-pier design. Each of the 20 piers is slightly different, making them time consuming to construct. All eight on the White Settlement Road bridge are finished and work is being done to build the road deck. Three V-piers have been poured on Henderson and all are done for North Main, where crews should soon begin working on the deck.

Fort Worth-based Freese and Nichols designed the bridges under a city contract.

Building the bridges over dry land was believed to save time and money. The bridge project was delayed several years in part because TxDOT inspectors wanted to take a closer look at the design of the piers to ensure they were appropriate for holding the weight of the bridges. They’re now expected to be finished between 2020 and 2021.

But the project could be further delayed after the TxDOT requested a change to the way the bridges are being built, according to the letter. TxDOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The change would delay the bridges’ completion by six months to a year, Hill said in the letter, and cost at least $10 million more than planned. The letter didn’t provide details about what changes are proposed, but Hill wrote that TxDOT requested the change after previously approving a different method.

Design and construction of all three bridges was expected to cost about $69 million with about $25 million coming from the city of Fort Worth. The rest of the cost was split between the state and federal government.

Sterling believes the new procedure poses “significant safety risks,” Hill wrote.

“The safety of our client’s employees and of the general public must be paramount to all of us, but the additional costs and delay which will result should be unacceptable to all concerned,” he wrote.

Hill requested a meeting between officials from the city, TxDOT and Freese and Nichols so that Sterling can present evidence of design flaws and other issues.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.

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