As the Trinity River Vision Authority board took a step forward in the sweeping review of the Panther Island project on Thursday, some members acknowledged that the review won’t be completed early enough to impact the 2020 round of federal funding.
According to the TRVA schedule, a federal appropriation of $26 million is needed in 2020 and another $35 million is required in 2021 to keep the $1.16 billion project on schedule for completion in 2028
“The point is not to rush the review,” said TRVA President G.K. Maenius, who is also Tarrant County administrator. “The point is to get a complete, quality study that helps us better position ourselves” for receiving federal funds going forward.
In the meantime, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, along with “other federal partners” will continue to press for a federal appropriation in the 2020 federal budget cycle just as they had in previous years, Maenuis said. Granger, the chief advocate in Washington, D.C. for this project, is now the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
“We are hopeful that Kay will prevail this year,” said Maenius.
The push for a comprehensive review began several months after Mayor Betsy Price said she learned from the U.S. Management and Budget Office that the project failed to receive funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work budget for the past three cycles because it was deemed an economic development endeavor rather than solely flood control protection.
“Federal funding can be difficult to predict,” said TRVA board member Carlos Flores, who is also a Fort Worth City Council member. “”We just need to make sure we are doing everything we can to be a position to receive it.”
Thursday’s board meeting was the only chance potential bidders for the contract to conduct the review had to make their intentions known. Bidders who did not attend the meeting and sign in will not be eliminated from the process, officials said.
Between five and eight potential bidders attended the meeting, where they learned that proposals are due Jan. 29, the winning bidder will be selected March 7 and the “anticipated” project completion date is June 19.
The TRVA will pay for the review but no amount of money for the review was budgeted by the board.
Instead, bidders are being asked to bring their own cost proposal to the board. Cost will account for 25 percent of the factors to be considered in determining the winner bidder, Maenius, said.
Last month, when the board reviewed the request for bidders for the comprehensive review, a list of nine potential national consulting firms was identified. Only four of those firms sent representatives to the mandatory meeting on Thursday. They are AlixPartners, BDO, Mercer, and Riveron; all have regional offices in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Other firms with representatives at the meeting include Dannenbaum Engineering, Freese and Nichols and Burns McDonnell.
The Panther Island project is a joint venture between the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County, the Tarrant Regional Water District, TRVA, the Corps of Engineers, Streams and Valleys and the Texas Department of Transportation.
The project is dependent on $585 million in federal funding transform an industrial area north of downtown Fort Worth into a thriving residential and entertainment hub centered on picturesque waterways that also provide flood control protection.
Federal funds and the Corps’ participation are critical to for digging a channel and rerouting a 1.5-mile stretch of the Trinity River north of the Tarrant County Courthouse. The channel would replace the levees in that area of the river and would create the center island.
A San Antonio-style Riverwalk and new recreation amenities are among the planned improvements.
The cost also includes clean up environmental contamination of the Trinity River corridor north of downtown.
Nearly $322 million in local funds has already been invested in the project along with about $108 million from various federal agencies,. Only $60.5 million has come from the Corps, which is supposed to be the chief federal funding source.
During the past 14 years that the project has been in play, the cost has ballooned from initial estimates of $360 million to the current level of $1.16 billion. Community activists have pushed back against the cost and extravagance, labeling it “The Boondoggle.”
Last years, voters also approved a $250 million bond issue last year for this project and it’s possible that some of that money could go toward digging the channel, Price has said. A tax finance district that was created to support development of the project could be extended from 40 to 50 years to provide extra time to pay off the bond debt, officials have said.
Voters were promised no additional taxes from the bond issue.
Obtaining federal funding as soon as possible is critical to moving forward with digging the channel. Three V-pier bridges are currently under construction and expected to be completed within about a year.
Without the federal funds for the channel, the bridges will remain a mockery as bridges to nowhere.