After months of delays and growing doubts, a major element of the Trinity River project - construction of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge - appears closer than ever to becoming reality.
The bridge's signature steel arch and supporting girders arrived in Houston from Italy late Monday and are waiting to be trucked to Dallas.
With the steel's arrival, work on the bridge's arch and main expanse between the Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Singleton Boulevard can begin in early summer if not sooner, officials said.
That is welcome news at City Hall, even though it comes at a time when the entire Trinity River project has been cast in fresh doubt over a recent finding by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that Dallas' levee system is unacceptable.
"I'm excited about the bridge. It's going to be great to see the steel out there," said Rebecca Dugger, the city's Trinity Project director.
Still, the city greeted the steel's arrival with little public fanfare and made no announcement that it had come to port, even though officials were tracking its progress on a daily basis.
"I think that the steel says that the Trinity project is inevitable. It is going to happen. We may have some bumps in the road, but we're moving forward," said Craig Holcomb, president of the Trinity Commons Foundation.
According to officials at the Texas Department of Transportation, which is managing the bridge's construction, the corps is particularly concerned about the finding of a layer of sand deep in the levees at the site of columns that will support the approaches to bridge's main expanse.
Corps officials are concerned that water could flow through openings around the columns into the sand layer and weaken the levees. A so-called seepage analysis will tell officials how likely such a result would be. And until those results are known, it remains unclear how big a problem the sand layer will be.
Because of that, the corps has not approved a specific solution to that problem, although the construction of one or more concrete diaphragm walls at the site of columns has been suggested.
TxDOT plans to carry on with construction of the bridge until it reaches a point where the corps' concerns must be addressed before further work can be done, spokesman Tony Hartzel said.
For now, none of the corps' concerns will affect construction inside the levees, where the bridge's arch and expanse are located.
Dugger said she hopes to see that work begin soon and the arch rise sometime in late summer.
When it does, it should be an impressive sight on the Dallas skyline.
The bridge will be 400 feet tall, Hartzel said. To give a sense of scale, he noted that the bolts designed to support the arch's columns are each 16 feet in length and weigh a total of 20,000 pounds.
It's unclear exactly when the steel arch and support girders will be shipped to Dallas.
The shipment must clear customs in Houston and then undergo a complicated permitting process to be put on the road as an oversize load.
Once it's on its way, it will be sent directly to the construction site in the Trinity River levees, Hartzel said.
The arrival of three more shipments of steel for the bridge is expected to follow in coming months, he said.