City calls timeout on Hemphill-Lamar Connector project

The Fort Worth roadway project connecting Lamar Street downtown and Hemphill Street on the Near Southside broke ground in April, but with the project’s estimated cost rising dramatically, Mayor Betsy Price is calling the groundbreaking an “egg in our face.”

“A groundbreaking that was this premature was a very large mistake,” she said Tuesday during the City Council’s pre-council meeting at City Hall.

The project, known as the Hemphill-Lamar Connector, was meant to be a four-lane roadway and pedestrian tunnel under Interstate 30 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa told council members during the pre-council meeting that he’d like to see the Hemphill-Lamar Connector put on hold because the project is “significantly over budget.”

The estimated cost of the project is currently about $18.4 million higher than it was two years ago. Back in 2013, the cost of the project was estimated to be about $26.6 million. Now, the cost has jumped to about $45 million. Most of the increase is fueled by construction costs, now estimated to be $27.9 million.

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Chapa said the rise in cost is due to stronger market conditions in the economy. Contractors now have more places to work and development has increased, contributing to higher costs in labor and commodities.

“Since 2012 to now, the economy has really taken off,” he said. “Building construction is up. There’s been a big escalation in the time and the effort.”

With the project likely to be put on hold, Chapa suggested that the city hire consultants to study traffic and consider other ways to improve mobility in that area, using the already existing connectors on Jennings Avenue, the T&P Rail Station and Main Street.

The consultants, city staff and other partners would then present their findings and propose recommendations to council members in the spring or summer of 2016, he said.

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Councilwoman Ann Zadeh said she felt that this was the best way to handle the Hemphill-Lamar Connector.

“Looking at other alternatives, I think that is the prudent and appropriate and responsible thing to do,” she said.

Price said she’s disappointed that the project is not moving forward as planned but said the city has to be smart about how taxpayer money is being used.

“We have to weigh the financial realities along with the economic potential that comes with completing this street,” Price said.