The footprint of the long-awaited, controversial Panther Island/Central City Flood Control Project will no longer be a part of Congresswoman Kay Granger’s district, raising questions about how the change will affect needed federal funding.
Congressman Marc Veasey, D-TX 33, will inherit a two-decade-old, $1 billion project, which calls for re-routing of a section of the Trinity River north of downtown rather than increasing the height of aging levees that protect Fort Worth from flooding.
Some were unaware of the redistricting change, but are hopeful bipartisan support will change years of what has been a federal funding dry spell for the project.
State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, was so focused on retaining the Diamond Hill and Como neighborhoods as part of his District 90 that he didn’t notice the change until contacted by the Fort Worth Report. The House did not have a lot of input in the congressional district maps.
Because Republicans led the redistricting efforts in Texas, he said, it’s hard to believe that Granger wouldn’t have made her concerns known and they wouldn’t have been heeded if she had any about the change.
“Everyone calls it Kay Granger’s baby. Maybe because we have a Democratic administration she felt like if it has any chance of moving forward, it would be better in the hands of Marc Veasey than it has been in her hands,” Romero said.
In a brief phone interview with the Fort Worth Report, Granger said she isn’t concerned and she will continue to champion the project, although she didn’t offer specific details how.
“There’s not going to be any difference whether it’s in my district or not,” she said.
Veasey was unavailable for a phone interview because he was traveling on Tuesday, but wrote in a statement that he will work with the Biden-Harris administration and his colleagues in Congress to secure funding for the project by passing the Water Resources Development Act.
“We must complete the half-finished Panther Island Project to allow the businesses and community of Northside Fort Worth to survive and flourish,” Veasey wrote.
The water district has kept Veasey briefed on the project for years because it affected his constituents regardless, Tarrant Regional Water District Board President Leah King said.
Water district consultant and former Army Corps of Engineer employee Mark Mazzanti said during a public meeting last month that the project could be funded either via an annual appropriation by Congress or through the recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke hopes it’s the latter because that would provide funding for several years rather than one.
“We know what the general pots are, but we don’t know how they are going to be allocated. I imagine a lot will go to the states, and so then we’ll have to figure out what the process will be at the state level,” said Cooke, who also serves on the Trinity River Vision Authority, which coordinates activities among the project stakeholders.
Carlos Flores, a Fort Worth City Council member and Trinity River Vision Authority board member, believes the project is closer than ever to becoming a reality.
“We can point to various aspects of the project where we have performed well, so it’s not just hope or an expectation that the federal authority will fund us. We are making the case for it,” Flores said.
One example is the three bridges being completed, he said.
The bridges would go over a bypass channel, and the water district board approved purchasing land for the bypass channel at its Nov. 16 meeting.
But so far, the federal government has contributed less than a third of the $585.8 million required of it. The total cost of the project is about $1.16 billion with other contributions coming from local partners and a tax increment financing zone, according to the most recent quarterly project report.
The bridges cost $123 million, and the federal and local partners are supposed to split that evenly, Sandy Newby, the water district’s chief financial officer, told the Trinity River Vision Authority board on Nov. 10.
The North Central Texas Council of Governments granted TxDOT $15 million and loaned it another $5 million interest free for the bridges, Newby added.
Romero never imagined the project would become so political when he first learned of it while serving on the city’s planning and zoning commission in the early 2000s.
“There’s a lot of debate and discussion as to whether there was enough transparency at the Tarrant Regional Water District,” Romero said, “but I’m at the point where we’re committed. We’ve committed so many dollars that to not see it happen would be a perfect example of not being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Politics does not single-handedly drive funding for infrastructure projects; federal agencies just have a lot of projects to choose from, said Joseph Kane, a Brookings Institute fellow focused on infrastructure.
With past federal stimulus bills, it took six months to two years for the money to get out the door, Kane said, so people will likely see paving projects arise from the recent Infrastructure bill before a project like Panther Island. That’s because roads are simpler and involve fewer parties, and paving work is backlogged.
Bipartisan support also doesn’t guarantee funding for a project, he said.
“You could say the same thing about dozens, if not hundreds, of other projects nationally,” Kane said.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.