Fort Worth

Fort Worth's $1.2B Panther Island Project May ‘Take a Pause' Amid Funding Questions

Three bridges are $19 million over budget, TxDOT reveals

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Faced with a lack of federal funding, leaders of Fort Worth’s Panther Island project suggested Tuesday they would “take a pause” in the embattled $1.2 billion project.

Meanwhile, the Texas Department of Transporation revealed the construction of three bridges -- key parts of Panther Island -- was $19 million over budget.

The Tarrant Regional Water District is managing the overall flood control project, which would re-route the Trinity River and create a new island north of downtown Fort Worth, essentially doubling the size of the business district.

TRWD board members held their first meeting Tuesday since the federal government last week rejected funding Panther Island’s construction for the third straight year.

"My recommendation to this board is we take a pause, kind of figure out where we are, slow down, not issue any more debt," board member James Hill said.

No other board members offered any comment or asked any questions during the public meeting. Members later went into a closed session.

Afterward, water district general manager Jim Oliver declined to be interviewed, referring questions to a consultant the board hired.

The consultant, Mark Mazzanti, played down any delays.

"There may be a short, very small projected delay,” he said. “But some of that can be made up in a number of ways."

Mazzanti couldn’t say when the project is expected to be finished.

"I think it's the -- I'll have to get back to you on that,” he said. “I do (know) but I don’t want to guess.”

But even some board members said they didn't know the estimated end date either.

"Now that's the question that I want answers to, what is the timeline?” said board member Leah King.

TRWD Finance Director Sandy Newby said through Dec. 31, local taxpayers had spent $331 million on Panther Island while the federal government had spent $79 million. Congress authorized $526 million for the project several years ago, but the White House budget office has been slow to release the funds.

Now, after the bridges are finished and with funding running out, it’s unclear what construction would take place in the coming year.

"It is my understanding the group is looking at how we can scale that back as much as possible and only do the bare minimum administrative while we are waiting to see what to do next,” Newby said.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the three bridges, which are being managed by the Texas Department of Transportation and are fully funded by local taxpayers.

TxDOT's leaders notified the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday that the bridge project, initially estimated at $70 million, is $19 million dollars over budget.

They also said the White Settlement bridge will be finished in December and the other two in December 2021.

Michael Morris, a transportation planner, said the Regional Transportation Council will cover the cost of the overruns, which he said were expected.

The U.S. Corps Army of Engineers awarded $1.5 million this year for a “study” of the Panther Island project.

Mazzanti said it was unclear what the study would entail, adding the water district asked the Corps for clarification.

A feasibility study, which has never been done even though construction started, could take up to three years and require the water district to match the $1.5 million with local funds.

Despite the questions about future federal funding, Mazzanti and King both said they had no doubt the project would ultimately be finished.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has said it's time to consider a public-private partnership to move it forward.

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