In Dallas, Fate of Calatrava Bridge Hangs in Balance

September 28, 2009

By David Dillon

The first two sections of Santiago Calatrava’s Trinity River Bridge arrived in Dallas on August 20. Ordinarily this would have been cause for celebration, a sign that the project was on track and under control. But in this case it may be just one more round in a 10-year dog fight involving the city, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Highway Administration over where or whether the vehicular bridge can be built.

Calatrava-designed bridge
Image courtesy Santiago Calatrava LLC
Cost overruns, public opposition, and numerous federal reviews have stalled construction of a Calatrava-designed bridge.
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Calatrava got the commission in 1999, and in 2003 unveiled his final design, a steel and concrete span with a 300 foot parabolic arch in the center, costing an estimated $75 million. He described the bridge as a rare opportunity for Dallas to rediscover its river and to connect the developed and undeveloped parts of the city, specifically downtown and west Dallas.

Cost overruns, public opposition, and numerous federal reviews have slowed progress to a crawl. The latest blow was an April report from the Army Corp of Engineers declaring the Trinity River levees unsafe and incapable of withstanding a 100-year flood. The Corps found up to 25 feet of sand where supports for the bridge approaches would go, possibly compromising the entire structure.

The Corps is allowing construction of the bridge deck to proceed, but has halted all work on the approaches pending a review of the levers, which could take two years. All of this has left the future of the bridge—now christened the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge—up in the air. Supporters have launched a major publicity campaign called “Suspense is Building,” and Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, a big booster, has promised that the bridge will open in 2011 as planned. Others are not so optimistic, citing the glacial pace of federal reviews. The bleakest prediction is for the bridge, and a related toll road, to open around 2016.  

The Hunt bridge is one of three Calatrava has designed for Dallas. The second is mostly funded, while the third is still virtual.

David Dillon is a contributing editor at Architectural Record.

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