Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price Tuesday said she is disappointed about the possibility of having to put on hold completing the Hemphill-Lamar street connector between downtown and the near south side, citing the council’s fiduciary duty on capital projects.
“It is a major blow,” Price said. “We have to get a consultant in to take a look at this. I’m disappointed that we’re going to have to look at potentially tabling it, but I’m confident it’s the right thing to do. It’s never easy to hear comments like this on a project that’s been a vision for so many Fort Worth residents for a long time.”
Price made her comments after Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa presented a report to the council that shows the project is significantly over budget. Last projected to cost $26.6 million, the city is now looking at a possible $44.9 million price tag, the report said.
The connector is a planned four-lane street and a pedestrian tunnel that includes sidewalks and bike lanes connecting Lamar Street at the south end of downtown to Hemphill Street on the near south side, under the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and Interstate 30. About $11.1 million has been spent on the project to date, including putting in a storm water drain.
“Today’s economic reality and where we find ourselves with a $45 million price tag, that’s $20 million more than when we broke ground and a lot more than when it was originally planned,” Price said.
Chapa said it was this summer that city staff learned about the price increase from its construction manager at risk. Staff hoped to find savings from other projects that could be used, but the increase was too great, he said.
Chapa is recommending the city hire two consultants, one to look at traffic counts and the impact of potential development in the area, and another look at improving underpasses at Jennings Avenue and Main Street. Council members suggested the consultant also look at improvements to Henderson Street and Summit Avenue. Those studies would take about six months and cost less than $500,000, he said.
Engineers could look at existing connections, Chapa said, “to see if there’s upgrades that could be done in the interim, at a minimum, to improve the pedestrian and biking connections.”
“This is a major blow and a major disappointment to a lot of people,” said Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, whose district includes downtown and the city’s south side. But, she said, hiring the consultants is the “prudent, appropriate and responsible thing to do.”
City and civic leaders heralded the start of the project at a ground breaking ceremony in April, an event Price now says should have never happened.
“It goes without saying a ground breaking that was this premature was a very large mistake. It is egg on our face and something we will have to deal with. It should have never proceeded on.”
Fran McCarthy, who has several developments on the near south side and last year bought other property further south on Hemphill in anticipation of the connector being completed, said he, too, is disappointed the project is on hold but says he believes it will be completed.
Hemphill offers the only four-lane thoroughfare through the south side to Interstate 20 and the connectivity to downtown would be an economic boost, McCarthy said.
The connector has been planned since 2002. It was slated to be completed in the summer of 2017.