Fort Worth

Contractor dispute threatens to delay Panther Island bridge work

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.

Work on the Panther Island bridges, already more than a year behind schedule, might slow again because of a dispute between the contractor and the city, county and Tarrant Regional Water District.

Sterling Construction Co. has been working on the three bridges 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.

The Texas Department of Transportation is overseeing the $69 million bridge project. The city provided $25 million while the state and federal governments funded the rest.

Sterling’s lawyer, Frank Hill of Arlington, said Wednesday he was drafting a letter to Fort Worth officials asking for assurance that his clients will be paid within a reasonable amount of time. Hill said he believes that the city has told TxDOT to withhold payments, and the Tarrant Regional Water District, the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County owe the contractor at least $10 million. Work may stop if the issue isn’t resolved, he said.

“If we don’t get this worked out now, we’re going to pursue some other remedy,” Hill said. “We’re at a point that something must be done.”

Val Lopez, a TxDOT spokesman, said in an email that the “contractor has been paid for all work performed; no money has been withheld.”

The Panther Island project has been mired with problems, including a lack of federal funding and a design complication that has delayed construction of the bridges, which at one time were expected to be open by 2017.

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 for are done for North Main, where crews should soon begin working on the deck, Lopez said.

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 bridge. They’re now expected to be finished between 2020 and 2021.

The Trinity River Vision Authority, the board created by the Tarrant Regional Water District to oversee the project, expected an update on the bridge schedule in April, but that was postponed. A May meeting has not been scheduled.

Last week, Mayor Betsy Price and Councilman Dennis Shingleton met with a group concerned about stalled businesses on White Settlement Road. With the street’s connection to downtown severed and a lengthy detour in place, companies dependent on drive-by business have taken a hit, Shingleton said.

He suggested the focus should be on completing the White Settlement bridge first.

“Let’s get White Settlement open because these guys are hurting,” he said.

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.
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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