Fort Worth City Council members today will get an update on a plan to put Forest Park Boulevard on a "road diet." What's that mean? Well, as the nickname suggests, it involves trimming the number of main lanes on the road, and making it more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. But some commuters who use Forest Park Boulevard to get to and from downtown say the plan is all sizzle and no steak.
As the Star-Telegram's Sandra Baker reports, a new Clearfork Main Street bridge spanning the Trinity River between Hulen Street and Bryant Irvin Road opens today. It provides a well-needed east-west connection,but also opens up a previously private part of the city for development.
One particularly heart-tugging image seen in some highway work zones is an orange sign bearing the message: "Please slow down. My dad works here."
But while that sign appeals for the safety of highway workers, in reality four of every five people killed in a work zone is a motorist.
"We want the public to crank up their awareness," said Lonny Haschel, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman.
Haschel joined officials from the North Texas Tollway Authority and Texas Department of Transportation on Tuesday at a work zone site along Interstate 20. Speaking on a newly built bridge over the interstate, the group called for motorists to bear greater responsibility for their actions on the road.
"There is over $11 billion in construction in the North Texas area, with more on the way," said Brian Barth, Fort Worth deputy district engineer for the state transportation department. "Your daily commute to work and school is changing on a daily basis and we need every driver to stay alert."
Work zone fatalities have fallen 39 percent during the past decade, said Elizabeth Mow, tollway authority assistant executive director of infrastructure.
Still, last year 134 people were killed statewide in work zone crashes.
"We need the public's help to complete the picture," Mow said.
Speeding and driver inattention are the leading causes of work zone fatalities, Haschel said.
Distractions such as talking or texting on a mobile device are also a major problem, Barth said.
National Work Zone Safety Awareness week is this week. The groups chose Tuesday's site for their press conference because it is part of the Chisholm Trail Parkway project, a 28-mile toll road from downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne that is scheduled to open next year.
The Chisholm Trail Parkway project has created work zones across a swath of southwestern Tarrant County, crossing Interstate 30, I-20, Hulen Street and Texas 183 (Southwest Boulevard).
Good news for motorists in southwest Fort Worth: Two additional lanes opened Wednesday on Hulen Street, as officials continued to make progress on the Chisholm Trail Parkway project.
There are now three northbound lanes and two southbound lanes crossing the Hulen Street bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad's Davidson Yard, said Michael Rey, spokesman for the North Texas Tollway Authority.
The entire, six-lane bridge is scheduled to open during the summer - and a new walkway will be available for pedestrians or cyclists.
The additional lanes should provide lots of extra breathing room for motorists, who have dealt with long lines and narrow lanes on the Hulen Street bridge for two years.
"There is still some fencing, and the demolition of the older bridge, but it's a lot better than it has been," Rey said, "They're still doing some final column demolition."
Also re-opening are a ramp from southbound Hulen Street to westbound Vickery Boulevard, and the eastbound right lane of Vickery Boulevard.
Chisholm Trail Parkway is a planned 28-mile toll road from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.s. 67 in Cleburne. It is scheduled to open in 2014. The North Texas Tollway Authority is the lead agency on the project, and the Texas Department of Transportation is a partner.
Susan Geissler was in the shower Monday night when a loud boom nearly knocked her to the floor.
Later, she found out the blast was the result of a planned demolition nearly three miles away. The Texas Department of Transportation on Monday night demolished the old Weatherford Street bridge on the eastern edge of downtown Fort Worth – creating a blast that shook windows and rattled nerves as far away as Arlington.
“This whole bridge blowing up business would have been a good thing to know before I got into the shower,” Geissler, who lives in the historic Fairmount area southwest of downtown, posted on her Facebook page. “I thought the world was ending and I was going into it without any clothes on. Which is totally something that would happen to me.”
Reached Tuesday by phone, Geissler, owner of Manifesto Marketing, added that if she had known about the planned demolition she would have tried to get close to the old bridge site and watch it. Geissler said she watched the 2006 implosion of the Landmark Tower downtown.
But officials at the transportation department acknowledged that they purposefully kept the demolition of the Weatherford Street bridge a bit on the down-low, to avoid attracting gawkers to the blast site.
As a result, many residents not only in Fort Worth’s city center, but also east Fort Worth and Arlington, were stunned by the noise and vibration of the blast, which occurred about 10:20 p.m.
Fort Worth 911 operators were overwhelmed with calls.
“They’re jamming our lines right now,” police Capt. Kevin Rodricks said Monday night.
Despite the jolt to the community, the demolition was considered a success, transportation department officials said. On Tuesday afternoon, workers were still removing debris, but most roads on the east side of downtown were open to traffic. Only Gilvin Street directly below the bridge site remained closed to through traffic.
“The amount of explosives used was the proper amount to get the job done,” said transportation department spokesman Val Lopez. “The whole point of the exercise was to demolish the old bridge without damaging the new bridge. Demolishing it using traditional methods like giant jack hammers actually would have exposed it to additional damage by debris.”
The agency and its contractors also took into account variables such as weather, Lopez said.
“Lots of factors go into how far sound travels,” he said. “If there was going to be cloud cover, they were going to affect the demolition. There was a potential there to cause damage to windows. But it was a relatively clear night, which means the pressure would dissipate quickly.”
Before the blast, agency spokeswoman Jodi Hodges had said: “There may be some small explosives, but we’re not advertising that to the world. It’s very controlled and very minor. We’ve certainly talked with all the local fire department and police and all that, but mostly it’s just demolishing that bridge and hauling off the debris.”
The bridge demolition is one of two projects that may have downtown-area motorists feeling a bit hemmed in these days.
On the west side of downtown, Forest Park Boulevard will be closed for up to nine more at West Seventh Street as workers begin digging column shafts for the planned new West Seventh Street bridge.
Some of the early work involves digging shafts for the new bridge columns -- an effort that requires heavy machinery on or near Forest Park. The road could be closed through March 27 and again April 3-12.
Motorists are urged to find alternate routes between downtown and neighborhoods such as Berkeley Place, but those who stay on Forest Park will be detoured to West Fifth Street, West 10th Street and Penn Street.
On Weatherford Street, the demolition now allows crews to complete construction of the new Weatherford Street bridge by the fall, officials said. The project includes reconstruction of the bridge itself, approaches, a new southbound exit ramp to I-35W, an extended deceleration lane, retaining walls and better drainage and lighting.
Staff Writer Bill Miller contributed to this report.
The reconstruction of Interstate 35W from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to north of U.S. 81/287 in the far north part of the city will begin this year, after the Texas Transportation Commission last week approved its portion of the project.