The Woodall Rodgers freeway endured the longest delay between approval and completion of all the freeways in the original Dallas freeway plan.
When the originally-planned freeway opened in 1983, 25 years had passed since TxDOT approval in 1958. Lack of local funds for right-of-way,
controversies over design, government agency conflict, and lack of funds for construction all contributed to the long wait for the Woodall Rodgers
Freeway. In 2006 financial challenges nearly thwarted the planned signature bridge over the Trinity bridge until a second-round miracle bid
saved the project, and in 2009 concerns about the integrity of the levees at the bridge abutments threatens to delay the completion ofthe project.
In July 2009, a contract for a deck over the freeway trench was awarded.
The Woodall Rodgers freeway appears to have its origins in the early 1950s when downtown business groups recognized a need for
a link between Central Expressway (US 75) and Stemmons Freeway (I-35E). One news report cites 1951 as the year the freeway was conceived,
another cites 1953.
The link was informally called the Cochran-Munger Expressway since the planned route was aligned along Cochran and Munger streets.
The business groups began promoting the freeway to political officials to secure its approval and allocate funding for construction.
By 1957 plans for the downtown freeway loop were formulated and in June 1958 the city of Dallas lobbied
the state Transportation Commission to include the Cochran-Munger Expressway in the state highway system.
TxDOT approved the route into the state highway system in August 1958 on the condition that local agencies cover 100% of the right-of-way acquistion expense.
In 1960 the Dallas City Council officially named the freeway the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, and TxDOT assigned it the Spur 366 designation in 1962.
Acquiring and Clearing the Right-of-Way
The city of Dallas estimated that the right-of-way acquistion cost would be $6 million. A 1958 bond issue provided $2 million and
a 1962 bond issue provided an additional $4 million. Right-of-way acquisition and clearance initally proceeded slowly and the needed right-of-way
between Central Expressway and Field Street was acquired by the end of 1965. A subsequent $2 million bond issue
raised the total amount of city of Dallas funds for right-of-way to $8 million by 1967.
In 1967 the serious trouble developed. Although the right-of-way east of Field Street was clear and construction of the frontage roads was in progress,
the right-of-way west of Field Street was still occupied by large structures and the estimated cost of the remaining clearance work was $10 million.
The original $8 million was entirely spent by 1968, with most of the land west of Field Street still to be acquired.
Dallas city council was no longer willing
to provide more funds for right-of-way acquistion and the council deliberately omitted the project from a 1967 bond issue, opting
instead to attempt to tranfer responsibility for the remaining acquisition to Dallas county.
Dallas county commissioners were not willing to agree to cover the additional costs, and the city of Dallas
held firm in its refusal to proceed with the land acquisition. By April 1968 a major rift had developed between the city and county, and land
acquisition was idle. An agreement was reached in June 1968 in which the county agreed to pay for 50% of the remaining costs which were estimated
to be $10 million, with the county contribution not to exceed $5 million.
Right-of-way acquisition was complete in early 1973, and demolition of structures was completed in 1974.
The design of the freeway was controversial and was the subject of study and revision throughout the 1960s and into the mid 1970s.
The original concept for the freeway developed in the mid-to-late 1950s showed the freeway in a trench. In the late 1950s discussions between TxDOT and the city
of Dallas took place, with controversy erupting over the number of access ramps and complexity of the design being promoted by Dallas.
In 1960 TxDOT and the city of Dallas reached an agreement to reverse the original concept of the freeway, instead elevating the freeway for its
entire length. In 1961 the city of Dallas reversed itself and pushed for a trenched freeway, but by 1965 Dallas was once again was back to the
elevated design due to cost considerations. In 1965 the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and Central Business District Association both endorsed the
In 1968 the city of Dallas hired consultants to review the freeway design. In October 1968 the consultants recommended that the
freeway be placed in a trench from Akard to Pearl to provide a "cleaner, neater and more operative design." The scale model shown in photographs
showed a wide deck crossing the freeway between Akard and St. Paul. It was obvious the new design would be much more expensive than the elevated design.
TxDOT and the city of Dallas were hesitant to embrace the design due to the cost increase.
TxDOT began the process of reviewing and revising the freeway design. In April 1970 TxDOT was still strongly recommending the elevated design, but
by December 1971 TxDOT agreed to the trenched design.
The steep grades of the freeway to accommodate the trench then became an issue and was the subject of discussion
and design reviews from 1972 to 1974. The final design included an 8% down grade and 7% up grade at the east end of the freeway.
Another issue of dispute in the early 1970s was the number of entrance and exit ramps
on the freeway. Local interests wanted more, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) wanted less.
The most egregiously unsafe design elements were removed from the design by the FHWA,
and FHWA reluctantly moved forward with a design which it rated as minimally acceptable due to its ramp elements and steep grades.
By December 1976 the final design was approved by all agencies involved: the city of Dallas, TxDOT, and the Federal Highway Administration.
The first construction contract was awarded in October 1965 for frontage roads between Central Expressway and Field Street. The frontage
roads opened in July 1969.
By 1974 the path was finally clear for the freeway, and in 1976 the design was approved. But now there was another problem: TxDOT was out of money.
By 1975 TxDOT was in a deep financial crisis
due to rampant inflation and stagnant gasoline tax revenue, and in 1976 the agency had almost no money to build anything.
The estimated cost of the project had increased from the original $10 million in 1962 to $19 million in 1965, $34 million in 1970 and $47.5 million in 1976.
like the Woodall Rodgers freeway had no hope of being funded as the funding crisis raged. Action by the Texas Legislature in 1977 to strengthen TxDOT's finances
allowed the project to move forward.
The first contract for main lane construction was awarded in March 1977. The $13.2 million contract was for construction of elevated main lanes from
Field Street to Stemmons Freeway, including the interchange at Stemmons. The contract amount was substantially below the estimated cost of $23 due to a
temporary pause in the rampant highway construction inflation of the 1970s. Bids for the eastern section from Field to Central Expressway
where received in December 1978. The winning bid of $27.5 million was awarded in January 1979.
The final cost of the freeway was reported as $70.7 million, including $40.5 for construction and $16.3 for right-of-way clearance. The remainder
of the cost was mostly for utility relocation, drainage, engineering, and lighting. It is difficult to translate the total project cost to 2007 dollars
since many of the expenditures were borne over a large period of time, starting as far back as the early 1960s. Using the consumer price index,
the construction cost of the main lanes translates to about $108 million in 2007 dollars.
Construction of the freeway proceed mostly on schedule but was about a year behind original estimates. The section from Stemmons to Field
Street opened in October 1981, and the east section of the freeway from Field to Central Expressway was opened with a ribbon-cutting
ceremony on May 26, 1983. The long ordeal was over, and the Woodall Rodgers Freeway was finally complete.
Building the Signature Bridge
Freeway planning maps
dating back to 1967 showed the Woodall Rodgers freeway connecting to a freeway-type facility on the north side of the Trinity River, what is
today being planned as the Trinity Tollway.
These maps suggested a slight westward extension of the freeway, but no bridge. Most of the freeway planning maps were academic exercises and
there was no serious discussion of the freeway extension until 1994 when a report issued by the Trinity River Citizens Committee recommended
the extension of the Woodall Rodgers freeway over the Trinity River. In July 1997 TxDOT completed a yearlong study of needed improvements
to the downtown freeway system. The Woodall Rodgers Freeway extension over the Trinity River was included in the plan, and this appears to be the first official recommendation
for the bridge by a government agency.
By 1998 the bridge had wide support and officials were working to make the bridge a "signature" span, an artistically-designed structure that
would become an architectural asset to the city. In February 1998 the consultant working on the overall plan for the Trinity River project
presented a preliminary plan with bridge concepts by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The bridges were described as arched designs, and the
Woodall Rodgers bridge was listed as a "tri-arch".
Interest in the signature bridges continued to build and in June 1999 Calatrava made a presentation to city council, showing concepts of five
signature arched bridges. Dallas City Council endorsed the proposal with a 14-1 vote. It appears that the concept for the Woodall Rodgers bridge evolved into a double-arch design around this time.
Obtaining funding was already a concern of many political officials. TxDOT would pay for only a simple pier-and-beam design; all additional
costs for the signature span would need to be covered by other agencies. In 1999 the cost of the signature span was estimated at $67 million,
with $18 million of that the cost of the signature component. In November 1999 TxDOT officially approved its involvement in the project,
allocating $30 million in state funds. An anonymous $2 million private donation was also received in 1999 to begin design work and pay
Calatrava's hefty fee.
The city of Dallas would need to raise funds to cover its share, and it turned to private donors to pay
for the bridge design including Calatrava's $6 million fee. In early 2001 Dallas officials were still struggling to raise the needed money and
were short $2.7 million when Mark Cuban, Tom Hicks and Ross Perot Jr. stepped forward to cover the deficit, allowing the project to move forward.
Calatrava continued with the design work and a new design was unveiled in June 2003. The prior double-arch design was discarded in favor of the
which featured a high parabolic arch supporting a cable-stayed bridge deck with the cables forming a distinctive, artistic pattern.
The estimated cost of the design was $73 million. In February 2005 the bridge was named the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge, in honor of
the matriarch of the H.L. Hunt family whose Hunt Petroleum Corp. made a $12 million donation to a Dallas parks fund.
An official groundbreaking ceremony was held on a cold, blustery day on December 9, 2005, with Calatrava and political officials in attendance.
But there was still a major hurdle to be cleared: building the bridge for the estimated cost of $57 million. By March 2005 reports had
project officials placing the probable cost closer to $100 million. The moment of truth came on June 8, 2006, when bids were opened.
Officials were shocked and stunned. Three bids were received: $113 million from Houston-based Williams Brothers, $122 million from Indiana-based Traylor Brothers, and $133 million from Dallas-based Austin Bridge and Road.
Mayor Laura Miller and other officials immediately stated that the cost would need to be brought down to within about $10 million of the estimate,
even if it meant redesigning the bridge.
Calatrava's team, construction contractors and the city of Dallas began discussions on how the cost could be lowered. Officials were confident
the cost could be reduced to around $65 million without any substantial changes to the overall physical design. A second round of bidding
was scheduled for October 5, 2006. Many were skeptical that the second round of bids would lower the price without a major design change.
A similar situation had recently occurred in March 2006 in San Francisco when a bridge bid for the east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay
Bridge came in at $1.4 billion in the initial bid, 100% above the cost estimate of $700 million. The lowest bid in the second round of
bidding was $1.43 billion.
Saved By Houston
On October 5, 2006, only one bid was submitted. If the bridge could be saved it would be by Houston's Williams Brothers construction and its owner Doug Pitcock,
a living legend in the Texas highway construction industry.
Dallas officials were ecstatic when the bid was opened. The price: $69.7 million, still above the estimate but within the range that was feasible
to proceed. The project was saved by the 38% cost reduction provided by Houston's William's Brothers construction, and Dallas would get its signature bridge. Actual construction
on the bridge began in June 2007.
Observers in the downtown area probably noticed the slow progress on the bridge. About two years after the contract award, there
was still very little progress on the bridge - only some pier footings in the Trinity River flood plain and nothing actually
rising above the ground.
On August 26, 2008, the Dallas Morning News reported on the bridge status. The steel fabricator in Italy had difficulty
developing the computer-based stress model, causing a delay. In the meantime, the steel fabrication shop moved on to other tasks,
so the steel fabrication for the bridge was pushed back further until the next available production slot. This resulted
in a 10-month delay in the shipment of the steel. This has pushed back the bridge completion to March 2011. However, the bridge
completion now coincides with the scheduled completion of the freeway section over Industrial Boulevard, so (for now) there
appears to be no impact on the date when traffic will actually be driving over the bridge.
Decking the Trench
While the purpose of the Calatrava bridge was to achieve maximum visibility of the signature structure, other interests were seeking to
hide part of the existing freeway through downtown.
The 1968 study which recommended trenching Woodall Rodgers had suggested overdecking the freeway for one block between Akard and St. Paul, but
there appears to have never been any previous serious efforts to build a deck over the freeway.
In 2002 the studies associated with Project Pegasus
, the planning
to rebuild I-35E and I-30 through downtown, considered various options to build decks over I-30. Although Woodall Rodgers was not part of the study,
the study appears to have revived interest in overdecking freeways and in February 2005 a coalition of business leaders and government officials
announced intentions to work toward building a park deck over the trenched section of the freeway, from St. Paul to Pearl.
Detailed plans for the hoped-for 4.66 acre park were revealed in June 2006. As of October 2007, the deck over the freeway with a basic
park on top was estimated to cost $67 million, and the complete cost for the fully developed park would be around $100 million.
The project would require tens of millions of dollars in private, donated funds. The concept received widespread support, but similar to the
situation with the signature bridge, money would be a major hurdle.
On October 21, 2007, the Dallas Morning News reported that $57 million in funding had been secured:
$20 million from TxDOT, $20 million from and a bond issue passed by
Dallas voters in November 2006, and $17 million in private donations. An additional $10 million in private donations was needed, and the
Morning News reported that the project faced a January 31, 2008, deadline to secure the funds, otherwise the TxDOT
and city of Dallas funds could be reallocated. The article did not report any timeline for securing the extra $33 million to build out the park.
Unexpected good news arrived in October 2008. On Oct 9, the Dallas Morning News reported that the revised estimated project cost was
$11.3 million less than the original estimate, with a new estimated cost of $56 million. The cost reduction was attributed to
reductions in concrete support beams, less soil on the deck, and fewer exhaust fans in the tunnel section of the freeway.
The final cost estimate just prior to the bidding would be even lower, only $42,941,714.23.
Bids for the bridge deck were opened on July 7, 2009. There were nine bids on the job, an unusually large number which was probably a result of the economic slowdown,
providing a very competitive bidding environment. The winning bid of $44,492,730.83 was submitted by Archer-Western Contractors, 3.61% over the estimate.
The deck will extend from St. Paul Street to Pearl Street. There will still be short section of open trench between Akard and St. Paul.