FORT WORTH, Texas — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday announced $403 million in funding for the Panther Island project in Fort Worth, a needed boost for the controversial flood control effort aimed at rerouting a section of the Trinity River near downtown.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, confirmed the Corps of Engineers funding for the project, also known as the Central City Flood Control Project, calling the news "a great day for Fort Worth."
The Corps of Engineers funding was allocated as part of the Biden administration's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Granger voted against.
The funding will allow the Corps of Engineers "to complete final design of all project components and construction of the bypass channel," according to a release from Granger's office.
A spokesperson for the Fort Worth district of the Army Corps of Engineers confirmed the design is about 50% complete and will likely take another year to 18 months to finish. Construction would then take roughly three years.
The Panther Island project started as a plan for flood control nearly two decades ago. But over the years, the project grew to a $1.1 billion price tag with plans for housing developments, office space and entertainment venues. The idea was to mimic San Antonio's River Walk.
“The public kept wanting to know when we were sort of going to come to a completion on this thing and I’m glad that they have something that’s real and substantive now," US Rep. Marc Veasey, D - Fort Worth ,who voted in favor of last year's infrastructure bill, said. "People would ask, 'What is this infrastructure bill going to do for me?', and now they have something that’s physical, that’s concrete, something that’s tangible.”
Concerns over management have been raised in recent years, along with one big hurdle: an additional estimated $500 million in funding would be required from the federal government. Bridges designed for the project at North Main Street, North Henderson Street, and White Settlement Road opened roughly three years later than initially planned because of design issues.
Before the Corps of Engineers' announcement this week, the Panther Island project had received only $62 million from the federal government, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Ryan McWhorter owns Panther Island Brewing, which is just north of downtown on the area destined to become part of the island.
“It’s going to be a really cool area for development for other bars and restaurants," he said. “It would change a lot around here not only for the city but for panther island brewing."
A new apartment complex recently opened across the street but the land is mostly covered by vacant or unused lots. McWhorter said all political discussion, audits and delays have been white noise he's ignored.
“I think it’s going in the right direction and will continue to go in the right direction," he said. “We’re excited about the future development around panther island because of the potential clientele that we can gain. That’s obviously something that’s important to us.”
The Corps of Engineers announcement this week is "the go-time moment we have been anxiously awaiting," Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said in a statement Wednesday.
"We had confidence in the Corps of Engineers and our federal representatives," Parker said. "This funding announcement delivers the certainty that will make our community safer and the green light for further investment in the area. This is an incredible moment in Fort Worth’s history.”
The key component to the Panther Island project is rerouting a 1.5-mile stretch of the Trinity River just north of the Tarrant County Courthouse, near downtown.
As a flood control project, the Panther Island plans are "a critical piece of infrastructure that will provide needed flood protection and growth opportunities to Fort Worth," Veasey said in the news release.
Fort Worth's current levee system along the Trinity River was built in 1960. The last major flood in the area was in 1949. Continued growth has also created additional flood risks.
Leah King, president of the Tarrant Regional Water District, said the Panther Island project would help reduce the risk of flooding for more than 2,400 acres of Fort Worth neighborhoods.
"This funding addresses Fort Worth’s flood risks that are a result of a rapidly growing population which has tripled in size since our current levee system was built in 1960," King said in the release.
It may still be years away, but after decades of delays, there’s finally a finish line for Panther Island.