FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Managers for Fort Worth’s Trinity River Vision project Tuesday said they welcomed a pending outside review, but said an additional full cost-benefit analysis by federal agencies could delay construction another six years or more if it was conducted.
In wide-ranging interviews they also acknowledged a public relations emphasis on the economic development potential of the project meant to energize local support, rather than the need for flood control, may have impacted perception and funding decisions at the federal level.
Their comments came as Fort Worth and Tarrant County leaders are in the process of putting together guidelines for a firm to do an outside review of the $1.1 billion project. It has faced renewed criticism from Fort Worth city leaders, led by Mayor Betsy Price, after not receiving U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding in 2018.
The Trinity River Vision Authority’s top executive, J.D. Granger, said he didn’t draw more public attention to the funding decision earlier this year because it didn’t affect the project schedule.
“Unless it was something that messed up our critical schedule, that’s the big time we let the board know, ‘hey we have to shift the schedule, move something back’,” he said. “We have not had to make that decision yet.”
While the project has received about $60 million of an expected $530 million in federal funds, Granger remained confident in the ability of congressional supporters to deliver, including his mother, U.S. Rep Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.
Granger said he understood questions about his family relationship potentially affecting the project.
“I really do get the appearance,” he said. “I do understand that.”
Because none of the funding ever directly goes to the Tarrant Regional Water District though, Granger said there is no conflict of interest. He said if it ever did, he would resign. He also pushed back against suggestions the relationship may make it hard to acknowledge management shortcomings on the project.
“I do know that based on our relationship, there’s probably the most sharing of information you could ever get, between the federal level and the local level,” he said. “And I’ve tried my very best to always make that available to the board.”
TRWD general manager Jim Oliver agreed that Rep. Granger’s support in Washington was the projects best opportunity at securing funding moving forward.
“I think that’s what we have to do,” he said. “I think she’s in the best position. You play your best player in the game. And she’s in the best position to deliver this project to Fort Worth.”
He said the time for a more extensive cost-benefit analysis though had passed. Requiring congressional authorization, and funding, work on the project would stop, and he thought it would improve very little about the project.
“The optics, maybe, but as far as the practicality, that ship has sailed,” he said.
Oliver acknowledged there are options to cut the project back, primarily moving to a plan to raise the height and width of the levees around the river. That would affect additional private property he said, and levees could still be overwhelmed in a disastrous flood event.
Granger also said there were opportunities to cut anywhere from $80 million to $150 million in cost. It would require removing sewer and storm water improvements requested by Fort Worth, and a channel connection to the Stockyards.
Oliver defended the project’s management, while saying its flood control benefits have been buried in a description of its economic benefits.
He compared it to the Alliance Airport, the Chisolm Trail Parkway, large projects built for public benefit, that have also attracted economic opportunities.
“I think that’s a lot of it. This is such a public project, right in the middle of downtown, I think it just has a lot of eyes and I think it just has a lot of misinformation.”