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Government As Panther Island review nears release, White Settlement business owners hear from...

As Panther Island review nears release, White Settlement business owners hear from contractor

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As the Trinity River Vision Authority prepares to receive the results of the review of the project, business owners along White Settlement road are continuing to deal with delays caused by bridge construction for the project. According to the TRVA, Riveron does  not have the report ready for the July 10 meeting, but offiicials are expected to receive an update on the bridges at that meeting.

The three Panther Island bridges continue to be plagued by ongoing design issues and the contractor for the project has been unable to bring the all the parties together to discuss the problems, the attorney for the contractor told White Settlement Road business owners on July 3.

Three months ago, the contractor, Houston-based Texas Sterling Construction Co., identified “91,000 conflicts” with the rebar design for the White Settlement bridge, said attorney Frank Hill of Arlington.

The Texas Department of Transportation confirmed the contractor’s finding two weeks ago and indicated that 80,000 of the conflicts can be fixed through simple changes but the other 11,000 conflicts need to be redesigned, Hill said.

“This is the fifth identifiable delay as a result of engineering deficiencies,” Hill said.

The information was disheartening for the business owners, who have lost customers and revenue because of the bridge construction. The White Settlement business owners have been the most impacted because construction has closed off the direct link from downtown Fort Worth to their businesses.

The bridges are the most visible piece of the $1.17 billion Panther Island project that is intended to improve flood control by rechanneling the Trinity River north of downtown Fort Worth. The flood control measures are expected to carve out new waterside economic development opportunities, including a center island.

The project has been beset by a myriad of problems, including a shortfall of anticipated federal funds, and is now undergoing a comprehensive review to determine ways to rescue it from sinking. The results of the review is scheduled to be made public on July 10

The bridges have been mired in delays and other problems. Construction of the bridges began in 2014 with anticipated completion dates staggered between 2017 and 2018.

TxDOT and the city of Fort Worth share management of the project because two of the bridges, Henderson and North Main streets, are part of the state highway system. White Settlement is a Fort Worth city street.

At an estimated cost of $65 million, the bridges are being paid for with state and federal funds as well as local money from the project partners: the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and the Tarrant Regional Water District.

The design delays are preventing Texas Sterling from reporting a completion date for the bridges.

The latest information from city officials has completion of the bridges set for late 2020 and early 2021. But city officials have acknowledged that those dates are in flux. 

Because the bridges are overdue, the contractor has been trying to recover overdue money, Hill said.

“We know we are dealing with government agencies who can raise the money,” he said. “But it’s been hell to figure out who writes the checks.”

Hill asked the business owners to encourage Mayor Betsy Price and other city officials to set up regular meetings with all the parties, including Freese and Nichols, the engineering firm that designed the bridges.

Price, who did not attend the July 3 meeting, has previously told Hill that Sterling’s contract is with TxDOT and not the city.

“Any specific issues related to payment, change orders, design and schedules must all be directly taken to the leadership team at TxDOT and not through the city of Forth Worth,” Price stated in a letter, which was given to the Fort Worth Business Press.

“For this very important reason, we will not be convening a meeting of all parties, because these issues should be directly handled between Texas Sterling and TxDOT,” the letter states. “We know that TxDOT is completely committed to solving any issues to complete the White Settlement bridge, and ultimately the Henderson and South Main bridges, as quickly as possible.”

Furthermore, she wrote, completing the White Settlement bridge is her top priority.

“My principal concern right now is with those businesses along White Settlement that are directly impacted and at serious risk of going out of business,” Price stated.

TxDOT acknowledged design issues with the bridges in March 2016, according to Fort Worth Business Press reports. The issues were reported to be resolved at a meeting of the Trinity River Vision Authority board, an offshoot of the TRWD and the organization charged with managing the entire Panther Island project.

Hill said the contractor is owed for more than two years of delays that are due to “design deficiencies.”

Freese and Nichols has disputed the claim that the design is to blame for the delays.

“We have full confidence in our design of the bridges,” the company said in a statement. “Multiple independent reviewers have confirmed the suitability, structural integrity and constructability of the design.

“As further verification, a test mockup of the V-pier demonstrated that the bridges can be constructed as designed,” the company said. “Minor design clarifications are typical on complex projects, and Freese and Nichols has promptly addressed issues within our control as we have become aware of them.”

Several White Settlement business owners said they welcomed the opportunity to meet with Hill even if they didn’t get the news they had hoped to hear.

“We were happy to hear from the contractor,” said Steve Metcalf, owner of Dealer Alternative on White Settlement Road. “It’s one of the best updates we’ve received.”

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