It started with a bang and a fiery explosion. But nearly two years later, construction of three bridges north of downtown Fort Worth leading to the planned Panther Island development has slowed to something more like a simmer.
On Nov. 10, 2014, celebratory fireworks near the banks of the Trinity River marked the kickoff of the project, also known as Trinity River Vision. Mayor Betsy Price praised the construction of the bridges for North Main Street, Henderson Street and White Settlement Road, which are being built on dry land before the Trinity River is rechanneled under them, creating an 800-acre island and a river-walk atmosphere.
Price, answering critics who had questioned whether the $910 million project would ever get built, declared, “This is not a bridge to nowhere.”
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Now officials involved in the massive effort say construction of the bridges has fallen about a year behind schedule and likely won’t be completed until 2019. The bridges, which are being financed with state highway funds, were originally expected to be completed in 2018 and cost $65.5 million, although that cost could go up if the delay continues.
The main cause of the delay, officials say, are changes in the design for the steel-reinforced concrete piers that will support the bridges. The changes have been in progress for about a year, slowing work on the bridges to a crawl.
“These are the kinds of modifications that can occur all of the time on a project this size,” said Val Lopez, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. “We’re taking extra time to make sure everything is done properly. This is something that will stand for the next 100 years. We want to make sure we do this right.”
Lopez could not provide a more detailed explanation about the modifications, or say whether they are directly related to the ability of the bridges to safely carry vehicle traffic. In March, he said the delay involved a miscalculation in the amount of steel that would be needed to reinforce the piers.
We want to make sure we do this right.
Val Lopez, Texas Dept. of Transportation
Officials with Freese and Nichols, the Fort Worth firm handling the project design, declined to be interviewed about the modifications. John Dewar, a Freese and Nichols engineer overseeing the project, referred questions to Lopez.
Officials with the Trinity River Vision Authority, a public body that is a subdivision of the Tarrant Regional Water District, also referred questions about bridge construction to the Transportation Department.
Other partners in the project include the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. The Transportation Department has also hired Texas Sterling Construction to perform contracted work.
2023 Original estimated completion date of Panther Island project, including re-channeling the Trinity River. Date may have to be modified because of construction delays. The bridges were originally supposed to be completed by 2018.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said the modifications were described to him not as a design problem but rather as an effort to be abundantly cautious about the bridges, which have an unusual flattop design essentially with most of the supports below the driving surface. He said he was told that designers built scale models to test out the piers and ensure they could support the rest of the bridge.
Whitley added that it was his understanding work on the bridges would resume soon.
“I have been told the models worked like they thought they would work and they have given the green light to get started on it,” Whitley said.
Progress in other areas
The delay comes at a time when substantial progress has been made in other areas of the Panther Island project, formerly known as Trinity Uptown.
In September, Congress authorized the expenditure of $520 million to cover more than half the cost of the project, which is considered one of several crucial flood control and economic development projects under the auspices of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Fort Worth project is one of the larger pieces of a $5 billion nationwide water improvement package authorized for the corps.
The decision to authorize the funding was a crucial step because it firmly places the project near the top of the federal government’s list of flood control and economic development priorities, although the money will not be available until Congress appropriates the funds, most likely over a period of several years.
By re-channeling the Trinity River 1.5 miles, an 800-acre Panther Island can be formed. The project could include up to 10,000 homes and a 33-acre lake with a boardwalk.
And there has been significant private-sector interest in the planned 800-acre Panther Island.
This month, a Dallas company confirmed that it had bought nearly 2.5 acres on what will become a part of Panther Island at Fourth and Main Streets for a 300-unit apartment community that is expected to cost $55 million. The development, Encore Panther Island, would be the first privately funded development for the project. It would be built along the first segment of canal running through the island’s interior.
The project is expected to include a water taxi stop and places for kayaks and paddle boards to launch.
The three Panther Island bridges would include room for not only automobiles, but also bicycles, pedestrians and potentially streetcars.
“We are dedicated to creating a special pedestrian-focused experience that allows our residents to walk out their front door and walk along the canal to enjoy the boardwalk along Fort Worth's future town lake,” Encore Enterprises Chairman Bharat Sangani said.
More than 10,000 residences are planned for the Panther Island District, which will feature 12 miles of urban waterfront, J.D. Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, has said.
Although work on the bridges has slowed considerably, there are signs of progress. Early last year, workers installed several V-shaped piers to support the bridge decking for the White Settlement Road and Henderson Street bridges.
Also, some road and ramp work leading to the bridges has been performed, and a traffic circle connecting White Settlement Road and Henderson Street has been completed.
The V-shaped piers for a planned third bridge on North Main Street near LaGrave Field have not yet been installed. Construction of that bridge will not affect the existing North Main Street bridge, also known as the Paddock Viaduct, that is just north of the Tarrant County Courthouse. The Paddock Viaduct was built in 1914.
In making the modifications to the bridge piers, designers have created mockups to test their work, Lopez said.
It’s possible the project could be completed in 2018, but it’s also possible it could be delayed until 2019, Lopez said. A more precise timeline will be publicized in the coming months as the bridge work resumes, he said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.