Panther Island Pavilion

Fort Worth Bridge Finally Opens, But What's the Future of Panther Island?

Critics of wider $1.2 billion project fear bridges will span dry land forever

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The long-delayed White Settlement bridge in Fort Worth opened quietly over the weekend, the first of three bridges to be built connecting downtown to the northside -- part of the larger Panther Island project, which appears stalled because of a lack of federal funding.

It took more than six years to build the bridge. They built the Golden Gate in less time.

After years isolated from downtown, nearby business owners gave up dealing with shifting timetables.

"Originally two years, then three years, then it was a few more years, then two more years, and just on and on,” said Jason George, owner of Angelo’s Bar-B-Que.

But George said he is grateful that nearby customers can easily drive again to the restaurant founded by his grandfather 63 years ago.

The bridge – and two others along North Main and Henderson streets -- are key parts of the $1.2 billion Panther Island flood control project.

The two other bridges are expected to be finished by the end of the year, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation said.

But the future of Panther Island is an open question.

Glossy renderings show what it was supposed to look like: A San Antonio-type River Walk in the heart of Fort Worth.

Trinity River Vision Authority

That overall project is being overseen by the Tarrant Regional Water District and the Trinity River Vision Authority.

In the original plan, the U-S Corps of Engineers would pay to re-route the Trinity River under the bridges.

But after not funding the project for several years, Washington offered money last year only to do a feasibility study -- to determine if it's even worth it. The water district declined, noting Congress authorized the project years ago.

Trinity River Vision Authority

Critics have slammed the project as more about aiding developers than controlling flooding.

"I think Washington has made it clear without a feasibility study there's not going to be any more money," said Mary Kelleher, a former water district board member and a longtime critic of the Panther Island project. "The idea is beautiful. But I don't think it's realistic. I don't think it will ever come to be."

George, the restaurant owner, also is skeptical.

"I don't know if I'll see the day there's a river under the bridge,” he said. "Everybody around here just thinks it's a big joke. A waste of six years, a waste of money."

Matt Oliver, a spokesman for the Trinity River Vision Authority, suggested the project is on track.

The bridges must be finished before the next phase of construction can begin and the authority has no plans to ask the federal government for more funding until then, he said.

Mayor Betsy Price issued a short statement saying she looks forward to celebrating the grand opening of the bridge soon.

“We’re delighted to see this bridge open after the long road it took to get here,” she said.

Price has raised alarm bells about Panther Island's funding issues, suggesting a public-private partnership to finish essential parts of the project if the federal government won't pay.

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