While you take detours Trinity bridges are taking shape
Fort Worth officials remain confident the Panther Island project will move forward “full steam ahead” despite the federal government casually nixing its portion of funding for the reshaping of the Trinity River.
The $1.16 billion project began as a plan to re-route the river near downtown to better control flooding but ballooned into an major economic development initiative.
With the promise of an expanded riverfront, a downtown lake and water recreation, local leaders see the project as a major economic driver. Critics, meanwhile, have labeled it as poorly managed.
Congress approved $526 million for the project in 2016 with dollars being doled out over time. The federal portion largely funds flood control along the river.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which has contributed $61.9 million, left it out of the 2018 budget. The White House budget also didn’t prioritize the project.
Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke, who is also a Trinity River Vision Authority board member, said planners have always envisioned the project as a partnership between the federal, state and local authorities.
Half of the partnership financially is in the federal government’s hands. A little less than $108 million, or about 18 percent, of the federal government’s commitment had been received.
“Whether you get the money this year is not as important to me as if you get in the subsequent years,” Cooke said. “We’re still anticipating 50 percent participation from the federal government.”
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who was in Washington D.C. last week, said she is confident the government will remain committed to the project because of the “critical” flood control component.
“The City of Fort Worth is moving forward with our piece of the project, as this is a top priority for our city,” she said.
Matt Oliver, Trinity River Vision spokesman, said work will still go on.
“We’re going to keep moving, locally, full steam ahead,” Oliver said.
Some of the money allocated in previous years has not been spent while other projects, like the three bridges currently under construction over dry land, are funded through the state, he said.
In May, voters passed a $250 million bond as part of the local commitment. The authority would have sought the bond regardless of federal dollars, Oliver said, and the money will still be used to fund front-end work such as design and the acquisition of land.
“The bond still going to local portions,” he said.
As part of flood control measures, work will continue on retention ponds in Gateway and Riverside parks. Those projects may not be visible to the public as part of downtown’s Panther Island, but Oliver said they’re crucial to the overall concept.
Work is expected to continue on the three bridges until about 2020, he said. At that point the Army Corps can begin digging a channel that will ultimately re-route the Trinity River and create a downtown island and urban lake.
That’s when Cooke said he expects federal dollars to start coming consistently.
“To me that’s when it it’s most important,” he said. “If the bridges are built and we don’t have the money, then it’s time to worry.”