Panther Island bridge design: Someone goofed


Artist drawings of the Panther Island bridges feature a signature V-pier structure.
Artist drawings of the Panther Island bridges feature a signature V-pier structure. Freese and Nichols, Inc.

As far as delays on $910 million construction projects go, this is not a big one.

Texas Department of Transportation officials say some work has been halted for about a month on two of the three bridges over a planned Trinity River bypass channel, part of the 800-acre Panther Island (Trinity River Vision) project north of downtown Fort Worth.

The bridge construction isn’t scheduled to be finished until 2018, so a month or so here or there won’t be noticed.

But the Panther Island project’s advocates don’t have to be reminded that there is more to it.

The project has been highly controversial since it was proposed almost 15 years ago. Anything that goes wrong is highly sensitive, another reason for legions of critics to harp about a boondoggle.

This one time, they might even be just a little bit right.

A design problem cropped up during construction of concrete piers for the bridges on Henderson Street and White Settlement Road. A third bridge, on North Main Street, isn’t scheduled to begin construction until next month.

Problems happen, we all know. But inadequate design for a project this expensive (the three bridges are budgeted at $65.5 million)?

TxDOT spokesman Val Lopez says there was a miscalculation in the amount of steel needed to reinforce the concrete piers.

“What we are addressing is adjusting the spacing of the reinforced steel in the piers to simplify the pouring of concrete into it,” Lopez told Star-Telegram reporter Gordon Dickson. “It’s a novel design, and we want to make sure we execute it as best we can so we can deliver the highest-quality project possible.”

That part about the bridges being a novel design is true — Panther Island advocates were determined to have unique bridges.

But the part about taking extra care to “deliver the highest-quality project possible” is lipstick on a pig.

Somebody screwed up. The original design was faulty — or it was so “novel” that it just didn’t work in the real world of bridge construction.

Lopez says work will continue on other aspects of the bridge project, and construction on the redesigned piers will start again “in probably a month’s time.”

The bridges are being built on dry land to save money, before the 1.8-mile Trinity bypass channel is built below them.

The overall Panther Island project, a combined flood control and economic development effort, still needs a $340 million allocation from the Army Corps of Engineers.

None of this is cheap.

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