Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will be in Fort Worth Thursday afternoon to officially sign an agreement to rebuild Tower 55, the notoriously congested freight railroad intersection near downtown Fort Worth.
The $91 million project, which includes construction of a new track and a makeover for several dangerous railroad crossings in inner-city neighborhoods, is on course to begin in April and be completed by February 2014, officials said.
The federal award of $34 million in transportation funding -- known as a TIGER grant -- was announced nearly a year ago, but the work hasn't begun because the parties involved haven't finalized a construction agreement.
But they'll take care of that bureaucratic step on Thursday at the Petroleum Club in downtown Fort Worth. Joining LaHood will be:
- U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn
- Congresswoman Kay Granger
- Texas Transportation Commissioner William Meadows
- Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price
- BNSF Railway Chairman & CEO Matt Rose
Fort Worth-based BNSF and Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Railroad are chipping in a combined $51 million. Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, the state and the North Central Texas Council of Governments are also parties in the agreement.
Tower 55 is in the shadow of the Interstate 30/35W Mixmaster. Two north-south and two east-west railroad lines intersect there, and it's widely considered one of the most congested rail intersections in the United States. About 90 trains per day pass through, officials said.
The Tower 55 plan includes overhauling several pedestrian crossings in the Rock Island/Samuels Avenue area north of downtown, where children are commonly seen crawling under cars to get to and from school and home. Also, a third north-south rail line will be built, adding about 9,000 feet of capacity so fewer trains have to park at railroad crossings.
The Tower 55 project will create 900 jobs, according to officials at LaHood's office, and will give the two railroads that mainly use the intersection enough space to grow in the next 15 years without having to worry about capacity problems in the central Fort Worth area, several officials have said.
LaHood also is expected to discuss details of a third round of TIGER grant funding. States and metro areas will be encouraged to apply for more federal grant funding to build projects that can demonstratively add jobs, improve the environment, enhance economic development or meet one of the federal government's other stated goals.
During their face time with LaHood, Fort Worth dignitaries will talk up the importance of getting some federal funding to expand Interstate 35W from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to the northern end of Loop 820, Meadows said.