Tuesday afternoon’s Fort Worth city council pre-council meeting was cruising along, even though loaded with presentations on tax abatement proposals, arts funding, cooperation with Tarrant County, and the like. Then came the end, and “City Council Requests for Future Agenda Items.”
Councilman Joel Burns (top photo), whose district includes the Near South Side, had one.
He lit into an unnamed council member and the city’s Transportation director, Doug Wiersig, for what he felt was non-communication on a change in the tentative timetable for the Forest Park “Road Diet.”
The $100,000 road diet is the planned skinnying of the four-lane piece of Forest Park between West Rosedale Street and just north of Park Hill Drive that’s in Burns’ district. It would go to one traffic lane in either direction, a center turn lane, and bike lanes on both sides. The Berkeley and Mistletoe Heights neighborhoods last year approved resolutions asking for it, chiefly to slow traffic, reduce auto accidents, and make the boulevard more pedestrian-friendly.
The city agreed, and construction start was slated for April or May, involving a removal of the existing striping, the laying of new striping, and changes in signs and signals.
The construction start is now on temporary hold. The city staff, at the request of the unnamed council member Burns was referring to, is seeking input from neighborhoods farther south in the path of arteries that make Forest Park part of a well-used commute from Southwest Fort Worth to downtown.
During Tuesday’s pre-council meeting, Burns said he learned of this update over the weekend from “a constituent.”
Burns also complained of continued delays in the the Lamar-Hemphill connector tunnel that eventually will be dug beneath railroad tracks on the south end of downtown, connecting Hemphill Street directly to downtown. That project, funded by voters in 2004, is now delayed until 2015 so its construction stays out of the way of improvements to the congested Tower 55 railroad intersection southeast of downtown Fort Worth. But Burns said the Lamar-Hemphill connector should have been completed before the start of the Tower 55 job.
Burns told council members he’s “lost confidence” in Wiersig, the T/PW director who council members have widely lauded for accelerating the spenddown of bond money left over from voter-approved programs dating to 2004.
“I don’t believe he warrants employment at the city any longer,” Burns told council members, asking for a report on the department's "managerial and communications style."
Councilman Jungus Jordan (lower photo), whose district includes the southwest portion of the Forest Park throughway, confirmed Tuesday evening he was the council member Burns was referring to.
Jordan, who has worried that commuters in his district will have their drives slowed by the Forest Park road diet, said he had caught up to Burns after the meeting and apologized to him for the confusion.
To back up a few months, at the February meeting of the council’s infrastructure and transportation committee, of which Jordan and Burns are both members and were present, Jordan asked the staff to seek input on the road diet from neighborhoods in his district.
The staff, which had focused its initial examination on neighborhoods north of Berry Street, agreed.
There was no discussion of the timetable during the brief committee discussion.
Jordan said he subsequently read a report in the Fort Worth Business Press in late March that said construction start for the road diet would be in April. Jordan said he sent an email to City Manager Tom Higgins asking him to ensure all neighborhood groups would be consulted, and that the council would be in the decision-making loop.
“I was remiss,” Jordan said Tuesday. “I should have sent a copy of the email to Mr. Burns.”
Wiersig said the staff expects to wrap up its conversations with neighborhoods in early May. That will include a discussion with a big group of leaders who Jordan meets with quarterly, and the next meeting is in early May.
Burns said he was under the impression until the weekend that the road diet was still on track to start by May at the latest.
“You can’t be telling one council member you’re going to start construction in May and be telling another council member you’re still going through public process in May,” Burns said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Jordan remains skeptical of the road diet.
“We don’t want racetracks, but we want to be able to move people,” he said.
He’s interested in putting the road diet off for a longer period.
"We're all trying to get somewhere," he said. “Maybe we should wait until the Chisholm Trail opens before we give any of our roads a diet." That road is set to open in mid-2014.
Burns said he stood by his statement of no confidence in Wiersig.
Wiersig sidestepped that.
“That’s his comment,” he said. “I’ll let him address that.”
Asked if he thought Wiersig’s position might be in jeapardy, Jordan, the council’s point man on transportation matters said, “no.”
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter