Fort Worth

Contractor Building 3 Bridges for Panther Island Project Says It's ‘Woefully Mismanaged'

TxDOT no longer giving timetable for when construction will be completed

The contractor building three bridges as part of Fort Worth’s Panther Island development says the project has been bungled and "woefully mismanaged from the top."

"It's easy to blame the contractor," said Frank Hill, an attorney for Houston-based Sterling Construction. "The facts are, there are others out there that have messed this up from the beginning."

The Texas Department of Transportation is managing the construction over dry ground just north of downtown.

The plan is to eventually reroute the Trinity River under them, add an island, and double the size of downtown.

It's part of Panther Island, the billion-dollar flood control and development project.

Hill also said TxDOT is asking the company to do things it considers unsafe.

"There are matters of safety, major safety issues," Hill said. "It's not safe to the public or our employees."

He said he was referring to how certain parts of the bridge will be removed after construction is complete. The way TxDOT wants to do it would cost an extra $10 million, take an additional six months and not conform with national standards, he said.

The lawyer also pointed the finger at the engineering company, Freese and Nichols, claiming the designs keep changing, even as construction is underway.

"I'm talking about fundamental design problems from the beginning," he said. "It was impossible to build … It has been woefully mismanaged from the top.”

In a prepared statement, Freese and Nichols said, "We have full confidence in our design of the bridges. Multiple independent reviewers have confirmed the suitability, structural integrity and constructability of the design ... Minor design clarifications are typical on complex projects."

TxDOT spokesman Val Lopez declined to respond to the contractor's criticism.

Asked about the timetable for finishing the bridges, he said in a text message, "The assessment of the project progress schedule and the project completion are ongoing."

He would not elaborate.

TxDOT had said the construction would be complete by the end of 2020 but is no longer giving a timetable.

Meanwhile, nearby businesses are struggling, with the direct route to downtown cut off.

"It just leaves us hanging in limbo," said Jason George, owner of Angelo's Barbecue. "We never know when the end is coming."

The restaurant has seen a 25 percent drop in sales and has had to cut employees, George said.

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