While Mayor Betsy Price was generally upbeat, positive and assertive during her State of the City address on Friday, Feb. 28, she received some of her biggest cheers when she threatened to take a boot to someone’s backside if the Panther Island bridges project stalled.
“If they’re not [completed on time], my big boot is going to be on somebody’s backside,” she said to cheers from the audience.
Price didn’t identify the bootee, but also had some news on other plans for the project that has become a battleground in the bitter Republican congressional primary race between longtime incumbent Rep. Kay Granger and a challenger backed by conservative activists, Chris Putnam.
Work on a plan for development around the Panther Island project will take place soon, Price announced.
While challenges continue with the Trinity River Vision project, Price said the work to get a firm timetable for the bridges and open the White Settlement Bridge by the end of the year will be accompanied by a plan to explore opportunities for a public/private partnership to develop the area north of downtown.
More details on that plan should come soon, before the November elections, she said.
“We’ve had a lot of interest,” Price said after the State of the City address. “We’ve had several calls from private partners who are interested in taking a look at it.”
Additionally, she said there have been conversations with Washington, D.C. officials about “some other things.”
“It’s all beginning to come along to open the dialogue on it. I think everybody wants to wait until after this round of primaries to have real, open dialogue about it,” she said.
Many local officials were expecting to receive funding from the federal government earlier in February, but the only money allotted to the $1.17 billion Panther Island was for a feasibility study. This was the third consecutive year that the project has failed to win any federal funding for construction. The project is authorized to receive $526 million and has received about $68 million in the past.
While project partners, including the city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County along with the TRWD, were hoping for federal money for construction the only money included in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget was $1.5 million and that required funds to be equally matched by the local agencies for the study. It was viewed as a slap in the face by several local officials.
Fort Worth City Council members were told earlier in February the White Settlement Road bridge will be finished in December this year while the North Main and Henderson street bridges will be completed in December 2021.
“It’s no secret that this year we’ve dealt with intensive difficult issues,” Price said during the State of the City address. “We will continue to work with the county and TRV to move this major flood control project forward. We’ve been laser focused in the city with our partners at TxDOT on finishing the bridges and with the help of Michael Morris, RTC (Regional Transportation Council) and our COG (Council of Governments), we’ve now got the gap funding and a focus on moving them forward. TxDOT promised hard completion dates.”
Even with the bridges on track, that schedule has the White Settlement bridge two years behind the original completion date of 2018 and the other bridges three years behind.
The White Settlement road closure has been most impactful because there is no construction work-around as there is at the other two bridge sites.
Businesses along White Settlement have been cut off from downtown during construction, leaving many struggling and others closing their doors.
The council, Price said, has said if these goals for the bridges aren’t met, they will take up shovels, hammers and nails themselves.
Price said she sees a path forward “for this great project” involving a partnership with the private sector.
“Fort Worth has always been successful at pulling all the partners together at the table and innovating and moving things forward,” she said.