Jack Z. Smith Special Projects Reporter
Three sleek new bridges – projected to cost $81.3 million for design and construction – could span the Trinity River just north of downtown Fort Worth by early 2017 following a vote by the Trinity River Vision Authority (TRVA) on Aug. 7. The bridge project is part of a massive $909 million plan that would dramatically transform a shabby 800-acre area roughly twice the size of the city’s thriving central business district and provide more flood control for the city.
Bids are expected to be sought sometime between November and January for construction of the new Henderson Street, North Main Street and White Settlement Road bridges that would be a major feature of the Trinity Uptown project, according to Mark Rauscher, senior capital programs manager for the city of Fort Worth. Rauscher said construction could take 30 to 36 months, with the Main Street Bridge requiring the least time. The construction is expected to worsen traffic congestion, but Rauscher said improvised detour roads for Henderson and Main will ease motorists’ pain. Construction is expected to begin early next year.
Rauscher responded to questions from the Business Press on Aug. 7, following a meeting of the board of the TRVA, which oversees the ambitious and controversial Uptown project on the city’s near north side. Critics have characterized the economic development, flood control and environmental cleanup project as a lavish boondoggle plagued by soaring costs and delays, while supporters have touted the flood control and economic development aspects of the project. The board unanimously approved Aug. 7 a $124.3 million project budget for the 2014 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, an increase of nearly $10 million over the 2013 budget. A local tax increment financing (TIF) district – with key members including the city, Tarrant County and Tarrant Regional Water District – is a major funding source for the project, for which the public infrastructure is targeted for completion in 2021. The project also is banking on heavy federal funding, although such support could prove elusive as Congress copes with huge budget deficits and calls to trim spending. Fort Worth and the Texas Department of Transportation will have major roles in the bridges’ construction. TxDot is expected to select a prime contractor to oversee construction of all three bridges, but “a bunch” of subcontractors likely will be hired, Rauscher said. Local officials hope to know within several weeks whether a new $16.4 million federal grant might be awarded for the bridge project. But it can proceed even without that federal aid, Rauscher said.
In 2009, the TRVA scrapped a more-expensive bridge design by noted architect Bing Thom of Vancouver and instead opted for the new V-pier design, estimating it would save $45 million. The new bridges would span a new 1.5-mile bypass channel that would help create 12 miles of urban waterfront along the Clear Fork and West Fork of the Trinity River between Seventh Street and Samuels Avenue. A higher and more-constant water level would be created with a hydraulic dam at the north edge of the project and a 33-acre urban lake would be formed. The water features and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, coupled with environmental cleanup and demolition of old industrial operations on the near north side, will pave the way for a wave of new residential and commercial development, project officials hope. The TRVA says on its website, www.trinityrivervision.org, that there potentially could be up to 10,000 new residential units and 3 million square feet of commercial development, generating “more than $600 million in economic activity during the first decade alone.” The $909 million project cost is expressed in 2021 dollars, to account for inflation. Continued private development would be expected to occur in ensuing years.